Chernobyl, HBO’s gutting five-part miniseries about the 1986 nuclear disaster, has quietly grown in popularity in the aftermath of Game Of Thrones’ divisive final episode. With every episode, Twitter and Reddit’s digital thoroughfares flood with digital tears and praise for the series’ painstaking adherence to historical accuracy. That’s a good thing for HBO, obviously, but we’re living in a post-Game Of Thrones era, one where much of that chatter manifests not in words, but memes. Considering Chernobyl delves into a terror that caused an untold number of deaths and irrevocably changed the world as we know it, that’s...weird.
It’s also, though, just par for the course in the social media age. Every Game Of Thrones episode this season, for example, seemed to cull unity among the Extremely Online not in their content, but in the two, three, or four memes that inevitably emerged in their wake. Making memes have, for a large swath of culture, simply become a means of reaction, of processing, of conversing.
The majority of the Chernobyl memes, for example, center around a single character, Anatoly Dyatlov, the deputy chief-engineer of the power plant who’s now become the ire of a very fervent contingent of Chernobyl fans. Paul Ritter, the English actor who plays the real-life figure, has now seen his face plastered across no shortage of iconic memes, from “Steamed Hams” to Jonathan Frakes’ “You’re Wrong” supercut to that “Change My Mind” Campus Sign. His offense? Steadfastly denying that the plant’s core had exploded in spite of ample evidence to the contrary.
Graphite, of all things, has also become a staple of the show’s memetic manifestations. In real life, the extremity of the accident’s threat was downplayed due to inaccurate radiation readings, despite the presence of loose graphite—evidence of an explosion—littered on the scene. These irradiated pieces are given ample weight on the series, and fans were quick to compare the fear infused in these these chunks to another, perhaps less effective villain on HBO.
We’ve also got people mashing Endgame with the series, with Jared Harris’ Legasov (here represented by Hulk) providing the aforementioned Dyatlov (Ant-Man) with a radiation-detecting dosimeter that actually works.
Whether these are an affront to humanity or an evolution of discourse is up to you, but you can’t say the minds behind these memes aren’t absorbing the material, the likes of which is taught in countless classrooms. Teachers, take note. Also, look out for our own review of the series next week.