Instacringe

[A screenshot of a text message conversation. On the left are four messages in grey. They read, "You still live" and "In the silences" and "Between" and "My thoughts." At the bottom is a message on the right in blue that reads, "I live in Seattle."

Screen-reader friendly version here.

There are so many Instagram accounts devoted to posting brief, vapid poems, mostly about love and its aftermath, in typewriter-y fonts with clunky metaphors and a persistent refusal to adhere to the standard rules of capitalization. With so many instapoems to choose from, and so many angles to come at them in terms of critique, I decided to categorize them. I’ll introduce you to each type of poem one at a time, along with a deeper look at the characteristics and uniting features of the group.

Type #1: Girls Are Plants

In these poems, girls are plants. Or seeds. Or roots. Or flowers. Something botanical, though. They’re blossoming. Or sprouting. Or blooming. Or engaging in asexual reproduction in order to maintain a chance of survival in this cruel, Darwinian world. Well…maybe not that last one. But if you thought girls were young, female humans, you were wrong, ’cause they’re not. They’re plants.

It’s 2020. Girls are empowered. Strong. Brave. Tearing down the patriarchy with every subversive t-shirt. And what better image to convey these changing power dynamics than the flower, which has historically symbolized value completely separated appearance, agency, resistance to injustice, surviving adversity without wilting within a week of getting picked…oh…wait a second…

Type #2: Dating Advice???

This genre, if one can call it that — perhaps “phenomenon” is a more apt term — is clearly very female dominated, because the poems that are not about women are addressed to women, and the few that center on men typically chide the subject for failing to love an unknown “her” who is presumably the subject’s ex. Type #2 poems use the imperative and could plausibly be considered dating advice, if you have a really good imagination.

I’m filing this all in the back of my brain for college. However, most of it is fairly useless to me, as I’ve never been in a relationship before. This is probably considered some sort of microaggression by at least a handful of Tumblr users, but I’m too tired to google it.

Type #3: Defying Logic (And Biology)

This is where it starts to get good. Logic may have served you in…well, every other part of your life. But it has NO PLACE in Instapoetry. No place, I tell you! Don’t believe me? Then behold the plethora of examples below.

Now that we’ve destroyed two entire foundations of modern empirical silence, let’s mosey along to…

Type #4: Out of the Mouth of Brené Brown

If you’ve never heard of Brené Brown, here’s the crash course:

  • Brené Brown = sociology “researcher” and author of many a self-help book
  • According to the doctrine of Brené, vulnerability is the antidote to shame
  • Shame = bad, vulnerability = god

Yeah, I think that’s about all you need to know. And not just for this post. For life. But anyway, moving on:

Now, don’t get me wrong: I think posting inspiring quotes is a lovely thing to do, and I agree whole-heartedly with most of the messages (particularly those that don’t involve romance…the Instapoets tend to lose me when they enter that territory). I suppose the issue is that we consider this poetry. It’s not. It’s just not. And that’s not bad. I can think of plenty of wonderful things that are not poetry: Hozier songs, conceptual art, many murals in San Francisco, four-year-olds, challah. The fact that they are not poetry does not detract from the wonderfulness of any of these things. But they are still not poetry.

Type #5: Can We Please Standardize the Definition of “Silence” Once and For All?

Here’s where I get a little irritated. Because guess what, people? Words have meanings. Fixed, definitive, not-at-all-up-for-debate meanings. And I’m all for artistic/poetic license, for playing with polysemy and creating metaphors and exploring homophones…but that’s not what’s happening here. Let me show you what I mean:

This provides a decent segue to my next type….

Type #6: Pigeons Are Pigeons

We have to start with an example for this to make sense.

Except suffering is not freedom….so you’re not both free. Kind of like how if pigeons were dinosaurs, every city would be a blood bath, but every city ISN’T a blood bath…because pigeons are pigeons. Ya feel me? Great. Let’s keep going.

Type #7: She

I’ll be honest: the bulk of the Instapoetry, maybe 60% or so, is about an unnamed “she” who is very obviously supposed to be an analogue of the reader. There are a handful of main tropes from which the Instapoets rarely deviate:

  • She was in a relationship with a man who treated her badly.
  • She’s experienced some sort of unnamed, not otherwise specified trauma that, in the author’s mind, only makes her more profound, mysterious, artistic, interesting, beautiful, and special (which is pretty problematic in its own right…see below).
  • She’s a kind and caring person who treats everyone around her lovingly, and yet is treated terribly by others.
  • She doesn’t give herself enough credit for how amazing she is, thus explaining the necessity of the Instapoets, who remind her perpetually of her own worth.
  • She has a complex relationship with celestial bodies (makes the moon jealous, makes the stars jealous, loves the moon, makes the moon jealous of the stars, is the moon, etc.).

Type #8: WTF?

No explanation needed.

Type #9: You’re A Special Unicorn And There’s No One Like You (Except My 999,999 Other Subscribers)

The sentiment is nice, but it’s hard to buy the “how rare you are” thing when the post has upwards of a thousand likes.

Type #10: SHOOT ME NOW

At this point, I think I’ve made my feelings about Instapoetry pretty clear. And I’m actually going to write some of my own, but I’ll devote a separate (and much shorter) post to that. I swear I’m almost done with this (I’m saying this both to readers and to myself, because good heavens, I spend waaaay too long producing content for this ridiculous blog). There are only two things left. Thing #1: brief rant about the glorification of “madness” and “brokenness.” These two words/themes come up a lot in Instapoetry, and this makes me want to slam my head against a brick wall (NOT that I’m actually going to do that), because I’m vehemently opposed to the glorification of insanity or mental illness or whatever it is they’re referring to (ambiguity seems to be another defining feature of Instapoetry). And if you’re going to write a poem to glorify mental illness, at least make sure it’s a well-written poem. Not like this:

Please, please stop glorifying “madness” and “brokenness.” I could and probably will devote an entire post to this, but for now, I just want include a link to a spectacular video that perfectly articulates my opinions on this (and is possibly the only slam poem I like). So yeah, more later.

And finally, Thing #2. Most of this post has been…critical, to put it generously. And yeah, there’s a lot of stuff on Instagram that I find patently absurd/farcical. However, there’s also a lot of Instagram content I quite appreciate, and while I don’t think Instapoetry is all that spectacular by the standards of…well…poetry, that doesn’t mean it isn’t without value. A lot of these Instapoets share thoughtful, kind words that seem to have a positive impact on their followers, and I think this is wonderful. So in the spirit of kindness and of recognizing that just because I don’t like something, that doesn’t make it inherently bad or worthless, allow me to present a small array of Instapoet posts that I genuinely admire:



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