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This State Has Overtaken Florida & New Jersey as America’s Favorite Punching Bag

I hope this continues into 2023.

Aubrey II from 'Little Shop of Horrors' but instead of the face it's a silhouette of Ohio. Image: Warner Bros. Discovery, Alyssa Shotwell

Every state has a neighboring jurisdiction that serves as the “our team is better than yours” punching bag. In Texas, people do not shut up about California and, to a degree, Oklahoma. While Oklahoma is a territory oorah, the California obsession is steeped in political peacocking—mixed with it being the most populous state. However, there’s one state that, for non-overtly political reasons, has taken over the role of America’s Punching Bag. And it’s not Florida …

Swag like Ohio

@sfshock new overwatch map just leaked ? #gaming #overwatch #overwatch2 #ohio #onlyinohio ♬ original sound – San Francisco Shock

If your TikTok FYP ever features wildin’ out moments or funny videos and you look at the comments, you will probably see someone mention the buckeye state. It doesn’t even matter if the user is American. Any extreme is just considered a common occurrence in Ohio. One of the most popular iterations of this phenomenon is the “only in Ohio” meme.

I didn’t realize how big of a thing this was until a small TikTok account from someone in South Asia went viral for genuinely asking something along the lines of, “Why does everyone in America hate Ohio? Did the state do something?” only for half the commenters to reply, “Ohio knows why.” The handful of commenters explaining the joke were inundated with replies accusing them of being from Ohio and lying.

While the state is only home to 11 million people, on TikTok, #Ohio is tagged in over 15 billion videos. Most of the videos are unrelated to the trend; many people who aren’t talking about Ohio the state or the meme use the hashtag to get a boost from the algorithm. Using the sound from Lil B’s 2011 song “Swag Like Ohio” also aids in virality because the song has been frequently paired with Ohio digs. All of this is before you consider the offshoots, like #OhioDoesn’tExist (over 7 million) and #OnlyInOhio (1.6 billion).

@the_fogman2 Swag like Ohio #militarywifeproblems #afraidtopoop #ohiodoesntexist #foryoupage #lilb #fakebody #schizophrenicsupersoldier #fyp #mayonnaise #fordtruckmonthispridemonth #shatmyselfinwalmart #adamdriver ♬ huge thanks to everyone for using this sound – Fogman 2

The Ohio meme goes so deep that in late 2022, someone called it another Simpsons prediction, while others found references in the original Animaniacs.

Why do people make fun of Ohio?

Like most citizens of the internet, I turned to Know Your Meme for answers. Under Ohio vs. the World (which has several sub-genres), Know Your Meme cites a 2016 Tumblr image depicting a digital bus stop sign in Chicago that reads “/Ohio will be eliminated.” After that image went viral across several platforms, making fun of Ohio became a worldwide theme and continued across other meme formats. This includes the two astronauts with the caption “It Always Has Been” and the popular Marriage Story memes. The abundance of memes dunking on Ohio even caused the entire premise to kind of form its own meme.

While 99.9999% of the jokes are in good fun and are ridiculously absurd in a way indicative of Gen Z humor, occasionally people will use the meme to make transphobic, ableist, fatphobic, or just really mean remarks. Many Ohioans have speculated that the north is the source of the jokes. Five states share a physical border with Ohio, but only one has a continuous rivalry, and that’s Michigan. The bus stop image was based in Illinois (not one of Ohio’s neighboring states), but there’s an assumption that Michiganders are the reason for the spread because both states often share memes making fun of one another.

All of which brings me back to the beginning of this article. When states are widely meme’d and dunked on, it’s largely due to their relationship with others. It can be political or geographical. The weird exceptions are Florida (see: Florida Man headlines) and New Jersey. YouTube history teacher and real-life social studies teacher Matt Beat (a.k.a. Mr. Beat) has hypothesized that New Jersey became America’s bullied cousin because NYC is the media center of the U.S. and New Jersey neighbors that state.

Over two centuries of media bias made New Jersey the joke state, but with just a few years of internet memes, that honor is now bestowed upon Ohio. There are, I’m sure, redeeming qualities about the state that created Skyline Chili, but it’s taking a big loss for the foreseeable future.

(featured image: Warner Bros. / Alyssa Shotwell)

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(she/her) Award-winning digital artist and blogger with experience and an educational background in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. A resident of the yeeHaw land, she spends most of her time watching movies, playing video games, and reading.