They Did Surgery on a Grape
PH MCCORMICK // NOVEMBER 30, 2018
“They did surgery on a grape” is a perfect meme for our times; a pixeled-out, screenshotted piece of bullshit-benign clickbait filtered through needless channels of over-explanation. According to some research done by New York magazine, the line comes from a 2017 clip by online video-farm Cheddar, demonstrating the precision of some new medical equipment by removing the skin from a grape. So while they did surgery on a grape, they didn’t really do surgery on a grape. That wouldn't make any sense.
The joke of “They did surgery on a grape” is to repeat and overlay the phrase ad nauseum, prodding the viewer to examine the form and function of the message. Who are “they”? Why are they doing surgery on a grape? Is this news? Why is this news? Should I know this? Why am I so tired all the time? Where did they do this surgery on a grape? Did someone pay to get surgery done on a grape? Are all my friends hanging out without me?
“They did surgery on a grape” is a uniquely exhausting experience, and is also very funny. It’s tempting to call “They did surgery on a grape” a postmodern thought problem/art piece, prompting a useful conversation about media, social media, consumption habits, internet addiction, the widespread availability of useless information, etc. But in the end, all it is is they did surgery on a grape.
“They did surgery on a grape” could be a lot and actually might be but is actually nothing at all, which is all part of it. “They did surgery on a grape” should be up in a museum.
In 1984, the media critic Neil Postman published his takedown of television culture, “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” which warned of a fast-approaching future where information is usurped by “disinformation,” as “news” quickly gave way to pure entertainment.
“Television,” wrote Postman, “is altering the meaning of 'being informed' by creating a species of information that might properly be called disinformation... Disinformation does not mean false information. It means misleading information -- misplace, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information -- information that creates the illusion of knowing something but which in fact leads one away from knowing.”
He continues: “In saying that television...entertains but does not inform, I am saying something far more serious than that we are being deprived of authentic information. I am saying we are losing our sense of what it means to be well informed.” But this quote is wholly irrelevant here, because we are informed— we know that they did surgery on a grape. Also, Postman is writing in the early eighties about the advent of television news, and this is an Instagram video about how they did surgery on a grape, so I’m not sure if it applies.
As I was writing this article, I paused to watch a video on an Instagram account called IfYouHigh of someone making a strawberry shortcake that looked like a mushroom. It’s not fake, I know it to be true, because I watched it. I know it in the same way that I know they did surgery on a grape. I’ve seen it! They did surgery on a grape.