How “Mercury Retrograde” Entered Web Culture

You may have already seen memes, Tik Tok videos, Instagram posts or tweets complaining about a mysterious phenomenon: Mercury would be in retrograde, and this (bad) alignment of the stars would be the cause of all the world problems. The breakdown of Facebook and Instagram last year? Mercury retrograde. Bad sleep, problems at work? Mercury retrograde. Couples tearing each other apart? Again, Mercury retrogrades.

Even if you’re not into astrology, you may have come across the phrase Mercury retrograde, which is used everywhere online. Particularly at the moment, since we would be in the middle of it, and this until the beginning of October. From a simple movement of planets to becoming part of web culture, there is only one step.

Mercury retrograde, kezako?

In astrology, retrograde marks the “retreat” of a celestial body when observed in the sky. Normally, at night, seen from Earth, the planet advances from West to East. But Mercury sometimes seems to moonwalk. In truth, Mercury doesn’t really go backwards, but when you look at it from Earth, it does look like it’s going east to west. While other planets like Mars or Venus go retrograde less than once a year, Mercury goes retrograde about three times a year, for a few weeks. Moreover, we are currently in a period of Mercury retrograde, from September 10 to October 2.

If the apparent retreat of a star seems fairly harmless to you, it is on the contrary a pivotal moment for astrologers. Mercury, planet of communication, would affect our daily life by retrograding: setbacks and slowness, communication problems, transport delays, and questioning. It would be a rather chaotic period, of changes and renewal, where certain astrologers advise to avoid unclear messages (and to prefer the telephone) to avoid misunderstandings, not to repair electronic or mechanical devices, or not to not fly… You will have been warned.

How Mercury Retrograde Became the Web’s Best Excuse

The interest of our ancestors for the planets and the functioning of the solar system is not new: the stars have long been used to follow the course of time and the elements. So a planet that seems to be receding was quickly interpreted as a sign of catastrophe! If the progress of science and astronomy have swept away a large part of the beliefs related to the movements of the stars, astrology grew in the 20th century, reaching certain circles of power: Nancy Reagan, the wife of US President Ronald Reagan and even François Mitterrand were advised by astrologers. Since the early 2000s, the return and rise of New Age practices have brought astrology up to date, giving it a new aura. Faced with a collapsing world and the loss of momentum of monotheistic religions, pseudosciences are on the rise: from bookstore shelves to Instagram accounts, crystals and other witch recipes rub shoulders with oracles and tarot decks.

With the development of the Web and social networks, astrology has become more accessible, understandable, but above all more trendy. Searches for “mercury retrograde” begin to multiply on Google from 2016. But the term went viral in 2014: in a video produced by MTV, singer Taylor Swift deciphers some popular internet terms, including the hashtag #mercuryretrograde. On social media, the moment is transformed into a flashy GIF where the American singer declares “It’s hella in retrograde”. It was enough for the term to enter everyday language, and become a meme on its own, taken up by a whole generation fed up with Web culture.

“It’s not me, it’s Mercury retrograde”

Perhaps a coincidence of the planet’s popularity on social networks is that Mercury is the Roman god of commerce, and often equated with the Greek god Hermes, specialist in messengers… And since the Internet loves the obvious, Mercury retrograde acts like a self-fulfilling prophecy, a kind of Murphy’s Law where everything would happen because of the planet’s retrograde period: in the face of a particularly cynical generation, Mercury retrograde has become a meme, to be laughed at or blamed for inconveniences of life. Web culture, which transforms everything it digests, has turned it into Tik Tok videos, hilarious tweets or facetious Instagram posts.

And a priori, it should not stop. Astrology being considered a laughable belief (and rather “feminine”, testifies to this the omnipresence of horoscopes in all women’s magazines), social networks have made it a place of choice, between mockery and reappropriation of knowledge neglected by the dominant culture. Believe it or not, mercury retrograde remains a very good excuse to mobilize in the event of being late for work or of risky texting at two in the morning to your ex, and that is a good advantage.

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How “Mercury Retrograde” Entered Web Culture

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