Beyonce. Prince. Cher. Only a few in the upper echelons of the celebrity world enjoy one-name status. But in a small pocket of the meme-osphere, there's a new and unlikely contender: Andy.
The Facebook page Andy Beshear Memes for Social Distancing Teens sprang up on March 20 and already has more than 200,000 members. It's an unexpectedly wholesome spot on the internet at a time when not too much else is lighthearted or uncontroversial.
The page draws from Beshear's daily coronavirus briefings at 5 p.m. ET. to seize upon all things Beshear. He starts the briefings by imploring everyone to repeat after him: "We're going to get through this, we're going to get through this together." His catchphrase when admonishing those who don't social distance -- "We can't be doing that" -- gets mashed up with famous song lyrics about getting together. (Think The Beatles' performance on the Ed Sullivan Show of I Want to Hold Your Hand, met with Beshear's distinctly Southern phrasing for poo-pooing close contact.)
Some memes are fictional trade offers from other states wanting Beshear for their own: "Tennessee will offer lifetime passes to Blackberry Farms, Dollywood and Graceland, and a home in Brentwood for Gov. Beshear." One page member put Beshear's face on that of Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka with the text: "Who can take tomorrow, dip it in a dream, separate the sorrow and collect up all the cream? The Andy Man Can."
Kenneth and Virginia, who handle the briefing's audio visual presentation and sign language interpretation, respectively, are also achieving first-name status. (Beshear regularly has to prompt, "Next slide, Kenneth," and it's impossible not to imagine 30 Rock's flappable Jack McBrayer fumbling around, trying to get the graph of Philadelphia's 1918 Spanish Flu infection rate on screen.)
Even Beshear's policies get meme-ified. Last week, he signed an executive order restricting out-of-state travel, with a few exceptions, given the higher number ofcases in essentially all surrounding states. One meme boiled the directive down to this: "Andy says we can't go to yalls states no more cause y'all can't act right."
The header image of the group is a small stuffed bear tucked into bed, with a Kermit the Frog plush tenderly patting the bear's head. The bear is labeled "the entire state of kentucky," and Kermit is labeled "governor andy beshear."
It may seem like there's little to laugh about these days. Last week, cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, crossed the 1 million mark worldwide, and deaths mounted to more than 70,000 lives. The world is coming to terms with a new normal that requires avoiding friends, family and strangers alike (unless they live with you) and adjusting to the stresses of home becoming an office, school, gym and fortress against an invisible enemy with an undefined capacity for attack.
Yet, the internet is facilitating moments of hope and joy. Around the world, apartment dwellers have opened their windows and clapped for health care workers. In Spain, people have joined in song from their balconies. In Washington state, a family serenaded a grandmother quarantined in a nursing home. Anyone with an internet connection can see that there are pockets of the world that aren't entirely engulfed in flames.
Andy Beshear Memes for Social Distancing Teens could be another form of these uplifting respites. The word "meme" existed long before Grumpy Cat and Condescending Wonka. A meme, in academia, refers to a transferable piece of culture. The Beshear meme page might just be capturing a unique moment in a state that's seen a spate of contentious political happenings.
A year ago, there weren't any rosy memes praising Kentucky's previous governor, Matt Bevin. As of July 2019, Bevin was the least popular governor in the country, according to poll numbers from Morning Consult, with a 56% disapproval rating. A New York Times piece on the gubernatorial race noted displeasure on both sides of the aisle. Still, Beshear, a Democrat and the son of former two-term Democratic Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, claimed victory in November by only about 5,000 votes.
The rise of the coronavirus, however, has become a defining moment for him. As described by CNET's Rae Hodge, Beshear's proactive response to the pandemic has received bipartisan support from Kentucky lawmakers, and when compared with neighboring states such as Indiana and Tennessee, Kentucky is seemingly starting to flatten its curve.
Beshear's been quoted as saying, "I am not going to be the governor who acts two weeks too late." Early, he called for houses of worship to suspend services, as well as for public and private schools to shut down. While not exactly a lockdown, the state is practicing a "healthy at home" initiative, and all nonessential businesses are closed, to name a few. As of April 6, there were 59 deaths, 1,008 positive cases, and 19,955 tested. He made Slate's list of best coronavirus governors.
In memeland, the perception that Kentucky's top executive is taking care of his people sometimes gets translated like this: "Let's make daddy Andy proud!" You can even buy a bumper sticker with the state's outline and "Andy" written on it the way Andy from Toy Story wrote his name on the shoes of his toys. Two Kentuckians even started a fundraiser for the Team Kentucky Fund, which provides assistance to Kentuckians struggling financially because of the coronavirus, and started selling apparel and merchandise with Beshear phrases like "We can't be doin' that," "Next slide, Kenneth" and "Healthy but nervous."
Beshear answered a question as to whether he knew about the Facebook meme fan page during a March 22 briefing. "If it makes people smile, I'm for it," he said. "We're living in different times, certainly, if that's out there."
The Beshear meme page hasn't stayed friendly purely by the magic of community. There are six moderators keeping an eye out, and clearly stated rules for the page prohibit hate speech and bullying.
"As Andy says, we're all in this together! Please be kind and friendly to your fellow members," the rules say.
Over the weekend, one of the moderators posted this warning, "Racist comments about the origins of the virus will get you blocked/banned FAST. Don't test us," addressing the rash of discrimnation and violence directed at Asians, falsely blaming them for the spread of the disease.
If you want to post to the page, you have to join and agree to the rules.
A page admin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Still, whether Kentuckians are tuning in at 5 p.m. to watch Beshear update the state death toll (and ask folks to light their porches green in solidarity) or mic drop about a lawsuit opposing the out-of-state travel ban ("I haven't read it. I'm not worried about it. We will win it."), meme-ers might just sum it all up like this: "He protec. He attac. But most importantly, he make KY stand 6 ft. bac."