SeaBus Memes: How B.C.’s COVID-19 pandemic is being reflected in social media satire

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If you live in the Vancouver area and you spend a lot of time online, there’s a good chance you’ve run across SeaBus Memes.

The popular Instagram account could be considered the 21st century equivalent of a political cartoon page, blending satirical B.C.-focused content with the meme format that’s become one of the younger generations’ favourite ways of sharing ideas.

It’s the brainchild of a millennial tech worker from the North Shore, who started the account as a gag three years ago based on his daily commutes on the SeaBus.

Since the pandemic started, it’s surged in popularity — growing to more than 86,000 followers as the focus of its barbs shifted from gags about things like ICBC, Vancouverites driving in the snow and girls posting cherry blossom pictures to the province’s COVID-19 response.

“To be honest, when the pandemic started I thought this was going to be the end of it. I’m not going out, I’m not doing things, things aren’t happening as much, I’m going to run out of material, but it ended up being the opposite,” the creator who identifies himself only as “Daddy SeaBus” told Global News.

“It sounds corny, but I try to sort of hold a mirror up to society; not everything I post is my core feelings on any one issue. I just sort of look around — what are people saying, what are younger people saying, what are the opinions that are going on — and I just try and reflect that in an entertaining way.”

The account’s most recent post is emblematic of the way SeaBus Memes has effectively riffed on the news of the day to speak to a younger audience.

It features an image of Premier John Horgan, Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry dressed as pre-revolution French nobility speaking to the masses.

The caption, penned in the wake of Horgan’s recent controversial comments on young people driving COVID-19 transmission, reads, “You selfish young people are going to blow this for the rest of us. Now finish bagging my groceries, then go straight home to isolate.”

A post shared by Seabus Memes (@seabusmemes)

“You’re pointing fingers at the people who are also out there keeping things going, you kind of can’t have it both ways,” SeaBus said of the post.

“It doesn’t help morale, for sure, it doesn’t help people want to follow the rules.”

Other recent posts featuring Henry have riffed on Bob Ross, Marvel’s WandaVision and the Michael Jordan documentary series The Last Dance to make gallows humour jokes about pandemic lockdowns.

While Henry features in many of the account’s posts, SeaBus said he doesn’t take much pleasure out of making fun of her.

A post shared by Seabus Memes (@seabusmemes)

It’s a different story with the premier.

“I think Horgan is my favourite,” he said. “He’s just so easy to make fun of. Just, like, his attempts to sort of be relatable to the youth are hilarious.”

The posts, which usually come once a week on Thursday, can take the form of a slideshow of memes, videos and sometimes songs.

They frequently feature imagery iconic to the Vancouver identity, including Grizzlies apparel, local beers, N and L decals, and of course local transit.

A post shared by Seabus Memes (@seabusmemes)

SeaBus estimates he spends between 20 and 30 hours a week on the project, and says he dreams of making it his full-time job, if there’s a way to make it work financially.

Right now he says he brings in a meagre side income selling SeaBus Memes merchandise.

Ironically, while the B.C. pandemic response has increasingly become the account’s bread and butter, SeaBus said he feels sympathetic to the challenges the government faces in communicating its message.

“This is just such an unprecedented situation for them to be in. There’s no blueprint to follow. It must be so difficult to navigate these waters and get people to do things they don’t want to do. People don’t want to not see their friends for a year, people don’t want to stay inside all the time,” he said.

And while he said government officials could do better, he wouldn’t want the job — even if it was offered.

“I feel like I’m not the right tone for the government, I feel like they wouldn’t reach out to someone who is constantly criticizing the government,” he said.

“I feel like I would be a bit of a sellout. Me from three years ago when I started with this wouldn’t be that pleased about it.”

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