Joe Exotic, Dalgona coffee and murder hornets: A look back at our fleeting online pandemic obsessions

Joe Exotic, Dalgona coffee and murder hornets: A look back at our fleeting online pandemic obsessions

With Toronto entering the second stage of reopening and more people enjoying the summer weather, I thought it would be the perfect time to remind ourselves of the various memes and internet obsessions we distracted ourselves with since March.

How many of us are still whisking Dalgona coffee or regrowing green onions? A look at our online faves in the last three months.

Toilet paper shortages (early March)

There were many things that were as valuable as gold during the pandemic: dried pasta, dried beans, meat, eggs, hand sanitizer, Lysol wipes, dumbbells, bikes, kiddie pools. But the thing that predated it all was toilet paper.

Murmurs of a global shortage started in Hong Kong in February over concerns that supply chains from China would be cut off. People in other countries started to stock up (including my parents), causing a chain reaction of others also buying TP. There is a reasonable explanation for the shortage, though, as self-isolating at home means we’re not going the washroom anywhere else.

Dalgona coffee (early March)

The three-ingredient, frothy dessert of boiling water, sugar and freeze-dried coffee became an easy quarantine project for those who had no interest in sourdough. (It’s basically a very bitter coffee mousse that you would never make again.)

Most credit the drink’s origins to South Korea, where it was featured on television back in January, inspiring self-isolating residents to make it themselves before it gained more popularity in North America in late February and March. But upon closer inspection, Dalgona coffee existed years beforehand under other names in countries such as China, Greece, Libya, Pakistan and India.

Sourdough (March 8)

Shoppers started to panic buy as North Americans became more aware of the virus that was already shutting down large parts of countries overseas. Pictures of empty grocery shelves proliferated on social media as stores and suppliers tried to keep up with the sudden spike in sales. Among the top items were flour and yeast, as first-time and professional bakers alike settled into the idea of staying at home for weeks and tried to be self-sufficient by baking their own bread.

According to Google, interest in sourdough peaked in April and searches have gone down since (a flattened curve, if you will). Other popular quarantine bakes included banana bread and focaccia dotted with intricate flowers made from herbs, but nothing quite matched the mass popularity of sourdough.

Italians singing from their balconies (March 14)

North Americans got a glimpse of life under quarantine as Italians were told to stay home weeks before we got the orders. In an act of solidarity, Italians began to sing and play instruments from their balconies. It was a heartwarming gesture, and the videos spread on Twitter. With the internet being what it is, users began to dub the videos with songs from the likes of Madonna, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift.

A few celebrities fell for the gag, believing entire Italian towns know every word of their songs (bless).

We Are the Virus (mid-March)

Images of empty cityscapes and deserted tourist hot spots provided a slightly uneasy feeling, but overall sense of calm. We wondered if staying off the road and production plants being shut down meant that there would be less air pollution and polluted waterways. (Sort of, but it’s temporary and climate change is still real.)

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Photos and videos of wild animals reclaiming the land went viral, from goats wandering in a Welsh town to a family of foxes in the Beach neighbourhood (naturally, humans ruined that short moment of joy). The tag line “We are the virus, nature is healing” emerged, providing some pretty funny Photoshop jobs (orcas frolicking in a toilet bowl, for example) and riffs (the 505 streetcar finally coming back on the streets).

Zoom meetings (mid-March)

Let’s be honest, who even heard of Zoom before all of this? In an attempt to carry on office work, social gatherings and classes over a virtual space, the bulk of us spent a good chunk of time trying to figure out how to get the program working.

We remember the boss who turned herself into a potato, the students and profs who gave us a glimpse into online class pranks, and the countless Zoom backgrounds at least one of us tried to install. (I still have no idea how to do it.) It was fun, but now Zoom fatigue is apparently a thing.

Gal Gadot’s “Imagine” video (March 19)

The pandemic highlighted multiple flaws in society but the overarching theme is inequity, privilege and distribution of wealth. An early example is the well-intentioned, but widely panned video of actor Gal Gadot rounding up a bunch of celebrities to sing John Lennon’s “Imagine” as a way to … somehow unite us all. Critics were quick to point out that it’s easier to imagine surviving a pandemic when you live in a big house and don’t have to worry about money. Did celebrities learn their lesson? Nope.

Tiger King (March 20)

The eight-episode true crime docuseries on Netflix gave homebound viewers a wild glimpse into the fight between wild animal owners and conversationalists: death threats, harassment campaigns, murder allegations, arson, an alleged cult. Who hasn’t been subjected to someone saying “Hey all you cool cats and kittens” or come across a discussion on who should play Joe Exotic in a movie?

The answer to the latter question: no one. Let’s leave this messy show with questionable editorial choices behind.

Animal Crossing (March 20)

The Japanese real-time simulation game doesn’t involve bosses or levels. Rather, your adorable avatar roams an open world and does things like fishing, gardening and socializing with other users (among them: Elijah Wood and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez). Fans loved the aimless, stress-free nature of the game and used it as a proxy for not being able to go outside.

Windowsill Scallions (early-mid-April)

Concerns over food scarcity, economic uncertainty and limited trips to supermarkets led home cooks to stretch every bag of dried beans, canned tuna and head of cabbage into multiple meals. The grade-school experiment of regrowing green onions by simply placing them in some water remerged en masse early on during lockdown, as it’s an easy and relatively fast way to grow produce without needing much space or a speck of soil. The question is whether anyone actually harvested their regrown onions.

Choose Your Quarantine House (early April)

A reliable Twitter meme is asking users to choose between a set of options, be it the colour of a dress, which subway seat is best or in a time of lockdown, which groups of celebrities you’d prefer to self-isolate with.

The thought process would usually go something like: well, Céline Dion would be entertaining and Ayesha Curry could teach me a new recipe. But in the other house, JLo would be fun to exercise with and I could jam with Lizzo with my Grade 6 recorder skills. Tough choices.

Murder hornets (late May)

Just to make the pandemic more interesting, in late May, Canadians leaned of the existence of murder hornets, an invasive species known to devastate honeybee populations and, with enough stings, to kill people. They were discovered in B.C. in May, prompting fears that it could be the beginning of an invasion. So far, nothing yet.

Karon Liu
Karon Liu is a Toronto-based culture reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @karonliu

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