“All of the birds died in 1986 due to Reagan killing them and replacing them with spies that are now watching us. The birds work for the bourgeoisie.”
Those are the words of Kendrick Smith, a 23-year-old filmmaker and comedian who runs his own production company out of Columbia, Missouri. His calm and somehow hypnotic voice has bounced around video sharing app TikTok for months, with Smith pushing himself along in an office chair, blasting into a bright white megaphone a phrase that would eventually become a meme re-worked into lip-syncs and even made into literal artworks.
Smith says the bourgeoisie birds meme took off after he and a few friends began discussing conspiracy theories.
“A few months ago a friend of mine told me about this conspiracy theory he had about all birds being fake drones,” he said. “I latched onto it and basically every chance I got I’d bring it up and tell people the whole thing.”
Smith would embellish new parts of his Grand Bird Conspiracy with every time he told it, eventually having a whole timeline worked out – beginning with the former US President Ronald Reagan‘s administration.
But it wasn’t Smith that turned the phrase into a viral hit – rather, his friend Marcelese (who goes by @SlyMCooper) recorded him one day spouting out the theory and uploaded it to TikTok.
“I was kind of struggling to find words to say,” said Smith.
“The whole line about the bourgeoisie was made up on the spot but the rest of it I had been saying for almost a year at that point.”
Smith’s conspiracy theory has now moved beyond his ownership. As is the nature of TikTok, other users on the platform have been able to use the sound of his voice to narrate their own videos. Suddenly people are carving the phrase into bananas and painting portraits of blue cartoon birds wearing black sunglasses and overhead microphones. One person even painted a huge mural with the phrase on their ceiling. It’s all very normal.
The meme proves the versatility of content created through TikTok, with users able to transform and adapt the audio of other people’s videos to their heart’s content. TikTok, more than any other app, has championed the rise of audio memes, using its roots in the lip-syncing heavy Music.ly. It’s the audio version of viral Twitter phrases: pee is stored in the balls, I love my curvy wife, and now the birds work for bourgeoisie.
“It’s weird watching it get as big as it did,” said Smith.
“I had several friends a day sending me links to it out of nowhere when it first started getting big and it was very surreal when I then started seeing fan art stuff too. It’s wild.”
The success of the video is yet another example of the growing interest in memes surrounding absurdist takes on communism and socialist thought. Despite its gradual push into the mainstream, TikTok’s user base is a mostly teen majority who post videos of themselves screwing around at school as much as they do anything else. The chances that they fully understand the truly absurd nature of the meme is worth considering – as is the possibility that discovering it might have led them down a wiki-hole on political ideology.
Last year, Sofia Barrett-Ibarria wrote about the phenomenon for Motherboard. Dozens of prominent Instagram pages in particular have committed themselves to tearing down capitalism, a response to the impact of the alt-right’s wave of Pepes and nazi memes that washed over the American public in 2016.
“I’m sure it’s going over a few people’s heads,” said Smith, “but I’d wager to say that at this point a lot of teenagers and young adults are relatively familiar with concepts like the proletariat and bourgeoisie Just because socialism and communism literacy is on the rise in general.”
The birds working for the bourgeoisie is perhaps one of the more absurd takes on the genre, intended mostly for humour and strange recreation. It’s good, it’s funny, and you might not have even heard of it just yet.
TikTok memes, more than any other, still experience lengthy periods of incubation within the platform before moving into the mainstream. Until then, word on the street surrounding the increase in surveillance birds will probably remain underground.
If there’s anything to take from all of this mess, it’s this: all of the birds died in 1986 due to Reagan killing them and replacing them with spies that are now watching us.
The birds work for bourgeoisie.