How to flex in 2020

The image is a two-panel meme that humorously contrasts what was considered valuable or “trendy” to have in March 2019 with what gained importance a year later in March 2020.

The first panel, labeled “Flexing in March 2019,” shows a hand holding a case of Apple AirPods, which are wireless Bluetooth earbuds. At the time, owning AirPods was seen as a status symbol, indicative of being up-to-date with the latest technology and having the means to afford such a luxury item.

The second panel, labeled “Flexing in March 2020,” shows the same hand holding a small bottle of Purell hand sanitizer. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, which escalated globally around March 2020, hand sanitizer became an essential and scarce commodity due to its effectiveness in killing germs and helping to prevent the spread of the virus. The demand for hand sanitizers surged to the point where having a bottle could be seen as a “flex” or a boast, akin to showing off a luxury item.

The meme uses the concept of “flexing,” slang for showing off one’s possessions to assert status, to highlight the drastic change in societal values brought on by the pandemic. In 2019, tech gadgets represented a common way to show off one’s socioeconomic status. In contrast, by 2020, health and safety items that were previously taken for granted had become scarce and, as a result, symbolized both health-consciousness and the ability to obtain goods in high demand.

This meme speaks to the shift in public priorities from valuing material symbols of wealth to essential health products. It illustrates how quickly societal perceptions can change based on circumstances, with the focus moving away from luxury and towards practicality and survival in times of crisis.