Ever come across headlines announcing a trend that doesn’t seem quite believable? Is the phenomenon blithely attributed to younger generations, or the users of a certain social media platform, with little to no evidence? And does the entire thing revolve around a phrase that feels not just confusingly odd, but randomly generated? Then trust your gut: It’s all a mirage.
Here’s a fun little case study in how something goes from a tossed-off joke to a digital event that prompts media coverage. On February 27th, @bear_wrongdoer relayed the words “skeleton brunch” to their Twitter followers. It was not the first time this expression had found its way onto the internet, but the tweet — by offering up “skeleton brunch” as a phony, calculated fad — inspired others to astroturf the concept. Soon we had a fake headline that incorporated the gag into a People story on Julia Fox and Kanye West’s recent breakup. This itself was a reference to a previous viral edit of that same headline by @meowmeowmeuw, who had changed it to say that Fox and West ended their relationship over Fox’s habit of going “goblin mode.” That image was erroneously cited by outlets including Vogue, and Fox refuted the claim on Instagram.
By the following day, @DoctorPenisBoob had delivered another round of false headlines on skeleton brunch, hinting at a moral panic, adding imagery and painting it as a craze that emerged on TikTok (a platform that often mystifies people my age or older). Not to be outdone, @meowmeowmeuw also contributed “screenshots” of Rudy Giuliani DMing her an invite to skeleton brunch. Both feigned bafflement at what they posted, no doubt in order to help it scan as authentic. An apology from @ProtonInspector to @bear_wrongdoer over fraudulently accepting credit for the invention of skeleton brunch added yet another layer of intrigue.
That you won’t find any “skeleton brunch” videos on TikTok doesn’t matter: The meme has entered the bloodstream. With each reference, it travels further from the original meta-commentary that generated it, and as the in-group behind this organic prank seeds the anxiety of being too uncool or out-of-the-loop to know what skeleton brunch is, others are earnestly trying to figure out whether it’s real. At no point has anyone offered a definition of skeleton brunch — beyond pictures of skeletons sitting at tables, sometimes with food or beverages — but aggregation sites have barfed up attempts to capture search traffic for it.
“It’s just very fun to see how far you can push something into just becoming a thing like we did with skeleton brunch,” @meowmeowmeuw tells me in a Twitter DM, noting that people are willing to “believe whatever they want” when presented with a “low-effort” meme or fabricated headline. She adds that skeleton brunch is “stupid and meaningless in the sense that it didn’t really exist for a purpose other than to just see if it could become viral. And all it took was a few of us posting about it as if it’s a thing for like 36 hours.”Watching how these experiments play out, she says, can tell us “a lot about how Twitter functions as a website and how people’s minds work.”
Of course, I have my role to play in this: The web culture reporter who pokes around for context and reassures you that you aren’t losing your mind. Yes, there are quite a number of tweets addressing skeleton brunch, and many more could be on the way. They exist, however, for their own sake, indicating no actual trend — besides the trend of making up trends to see which outlets can be duped into accepting them at face value.
Except there’s always the chance that sheer repetition will force an idea into fruition. I find it plausible that a subsection of Twitter jumped onto “skeleton brunch” not only because it’s such an arbitrary, amusing combination of nouns, but because we actually want to go. I mean, don’t you? Sounds like a hell of a party. An exclusive one, at that. Boy, I’d hate to be the loser they don’t even talk about at skeleton brunch.