Design by Meghana Tummala

We now live in a post-“Morbius” society. After its announcement in November 2017 by Sony, its first trailer in January 2020 and then its delayed release date of April 1, 2022 (in another world, it was just an April Fool’s prank), the Marvel-adjacent vampire movie starring possible cult leader/method asshole Jared Leto is something that now exists. It defies traditional description due to how incalculably odd the entirety of its existence has been: from inception to production to marketing to release and re-release.

Amid all of this were the memes: mockeries of Sony for thinking anyone wanted this, typical Leto horror stories from set as Sony kept making the movie despite the mockery, everyone seeing past Sony’s manipulations in teasing past Spider-Men in trailers and overhyping Morbius as a “new Marvel legend.” When it finally came out, “Morbius” was so predictably devoid of quality that the new joke was to give it ironic and absurdist praise. What was inspiring about the movement was that despite flopping on the first release, Sony interpreted the memes as actual demand. They re-released it in theaters, only for it to spectacularly re-flop. After Leto himself released a video reading a script entitled “Morbius 2: It’s Morbin’ Time,” the meme was declared dead. Now that the joke born out of anti-corporate revulsion had been embraced by the very company that birthed it, Morbin’ time was over.

However — like an undead creature of the night — the “Morbius” meme continued to rear its decaying head over every corner of the internet with nearly every new cinematic release. I remember seeing a review of “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” after being disappointed and to my horror (a different horror from most times I read YouTube comment sections), every single comment displayed some variation of the “Morbin’ time” format. There’s a faint connection here — Doctor Strange’s multiversal adventures could semi-realistically tie themselves to Sony’s pathetic attempts at connecting “Morbius” to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But this excess of sardonic praise could be another symptom of superhero fatigue as Marvel and similar companies push out more and more content onto no-longer engaged audiences.

Maybe in another life, we would have been happy with “Morbius.” These hyperbolic expressions feel like tales from another world, a place somewhere in the “Morbiverse” where it miraculously did live up to Sony’s attempted hype. You know that feeling when a good film whisks you away into another world for a few hours and you walk out into the parking lot, a bit changed from your time there? After the “Doctor Strange” sequel, I felt something I hadn’t before. Instead of being a usual escape, the film was a reminder of what was wrong with modern media. l was taken to a different universe, but it was a darker timeline that I didn’t want to be in. I flocked to that review like so many others, looking for sincere validation in my criticisms, only to find nothing but Morbin’ comments. When I saw and reviewed “Jurassic World: Dominion,” the feeling and the memes returned — and when I saw and reviewed “Thor: Love and Thunder,” I ended up fooling myself into thinking it was better than it actually was.

The Mandela effect is a phenomenon in which people strongly insist on cultural discrepancies and — like the Marvel Cinematic Multiverse — some believe it’s the result of parallel universes converging/sharing information with each other. Of course, believe what you want, but gaslighting ourselves as a society on such a massive scale seems to only be reserved for these Mandela phenomena. However, as I said, we now live in a post-“Morbius” society. If the Mandela effect occurs when tiny aspects of the universe feel “off,” the “Morbius effect” is the feeling I’ve gotten from so much of the highly-anticipated art our modern society produces feeling “off” in the same way and falling flat. Inevitably, these mediocre projects circle back to the Morbin’ meme format and are thus raised onto a pedestal of irony, hyperbole and satire. I believe we all want the art we experience to be an amazing, life-changing piece of media we’ll talk about for decades to come. There is only so much time in the world to experience art, and only so much space in our brains to internalize it and billboards to advertise it. Especially after the pandemic made moviegoing impossible for so long, it’s a letdown that so many of these post-COVID movies were below or shockingly just mid, at least to me.

They’re not so terrible that they loop back around to entertaining or good enough to say the experience was worth the money — they’re just mid. It’s a strange kind of mediocrity as well, with amazing soundtracks and eye-catching imagery but subpar scripting — the previous two aspects being fully realized with enough funding, but with that same corporate support sidelining the story’s quality. These movies are also polarizing depending on how much the viewer prioritizes audiovisual and textual aspects in their judgment. The descriptors for “Morbius” and its contemporaries as “the movies of all time,” lacking any kinds of adjectives to attach to the experience, are fitting for works of art that just exist — they have almost nothing to say and aren’t told in an interesting enough way for anyone to care. This leaves two big questions — first, what is the internet’s role in this Morbin’ age? Second, why do I care?

The open access to information that the internet provides as to what goes on behind the scenes sows the seeds for discontent — like Jared Leto’s casting and set drama. This information is disseminated at such a speed it returns back to those producing the art — efforts to subvert expectations or to fulfill fans’ every wish prove to just cement their statuses as the new favorite punching bags of the web, like a movie trying to appeal to comic book fans and corporate mandates at the same time, then being worse off in the long run. It’s not exactly like watching a trainwreck, since the end product isn’t a complete disaster — it’s more like a mild car accident that everyone could see from miles away and laugh as the orchestrator tries to argue his way out of the traffic court of public opinion. Picking apart these kinds of works (including in memes) helps us understand how much corporate meddling middles the quality of our art. However, I believe there’s another layer.

Remember how I mentioned the extremes that Morb-esque art lies in between? The Walshian relation of entertainment to quality can be used to show that, across this spectrum of quality, very good works are enjoyed sincerely and very bad ones are enjoyed ironically. In the “Mediocre Valley,” we find movies like “Morbius.” Works can be enjoyed sincerely and ironically, just as memes are made with both sincere and ironic messaging. Beyond that is absurdism and meta-irony. 

The former is all about layers — stacking layers upon layers of irony over a concept so that the joke then becomes how little sense it all makes — it’s the response that Gen Z gives to an increasingly absurd world. To a degree, these fit the “Morbius” memes: jokes that make little sense even with their loose connection to a piece of media. However, meta-irony restrains itself more as it strays from the absurd to simply blurring the line between sincerity and irony. The “Morbius effect” results from meta-ironic consumption of art, the joke being that you’re watching at all. With this understanding, we can now tackle the meta-ironic media meme following “Morbius” — the Minions.

You know what the Minions are — animation company Illumination Entertainment’s most hateable marketing tool. When “Minions: The Rise of Gru” was released, we saw a repeat of the “Morbius effect.” Teenagers attending screenings in the #gentleminions trend and Twitter users predicted it would make “one Minillion dollars.” The difference? Illumination was on the ball from the very beginning. The tag #gentleminions was orchestrated by them and they used the meme to make the Minions sequel even more money. A format born out of anticorporate sentiment had now successfully been appropriated by a different corporation. Nearly every mediocre media release has received the “it’s one of the (blank) of all time” comment all the way up to Harry Styles himself who, unknowingly or not, praised his film “Don’t Worry Darling” in the same way.

I refuse to see that “film, movie” so I won’t say anything more that my editors already haven’t. Why? Well, think back to every piece of media you were excited about this year, especially movies. That Jurassic World finale? Thor 4? “Elvis”? Did any of them meet your expectations? As much of a letdown as they might have been, nearly every movie I’ve discussed lies in this year’s top ten box office hits (“Morbius” is at #24). We know that mediocrity makes millions — Morbius flopped so Gru could rise — but this new age of meta-ironic media consumption doesn’t need to contribute. 

This is my personal stake here — I don’t particularly like fiscally rewarding giant media entities for not following through on the promises of quality they’re entirely capable of, even in my own culpability. Corporate control of art gave us these Morbsters, eviscerated HBO Max and let Disney destroy the visions of its directors. When Netflix added “Morbius” to its catalog, it soared the charts to the very top. The “Morbius effect” became fully realized as we became the universe where it finally was the number-one movie in the world.

I’d be remiss to not point out that there is an element of dumb fun to a lot of the “Morbius” memes. Saying “It’s (blank)in’ time” for any kind of media somehow still never fails to make me chuckle. That’s why I believe the format has spread itself from meta-Morbin’ into other works of art people genuinely love. Still, when the Digital Culture beat put “Morbius” on for bonding time, I put on my finest suit and pumpkin vest to recreate a #gentlemorbs experience. I didn’t feel any of the anger that the rest of this mediocre media had put me through, the same anger that motivated me to write this piece. I was just happy to experience it with my friends — the same happiness that got me through laughing at the bullshit of the “Doctor Strange” sequel and the Jurassic World conclusion. 

When the companies that manufacture our art don’t imbue them with any significance, we create our own. I just wish that we didn’t find ourselves doing that so often, and the only solution I can see is refusing to support such media and more … swashbuckling methods. Meta-ironic media consumption retains its value in the meantime, maximizing our value and enjoyment of art no matter how mediocre or disappointing it may be. The “Morbius effect” still lingers in our modern society — check out the comment sections for “Velma” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” — but if I’ve done my job properly, we know how to bring it to a close. Hopefully then, I can finally stop thinking about “Morbius.” At least, until the release of “Morbius 2: It’s Morbin’ Time.”

Daily Arts Writer Saarthak Johri can be reached at