A dumpster on fire in an alley.

What Is A 'Dumpster Fire'? The Trash Disaster Election Meme, Explained

Sometimes, you need a word for when a situation is so distasteful and disastrous that you just can't even anymore, and thankfully, "dumpster fire" exists. While it may conjure a very Millennial vibe, this slang term has proven continually useful for describing something that happens quite often in both online and offline worlds. Let's explain its history, and what it means when someone says "dumpster fire" online.


Where Did The Term 'Dumpster Fire' Come From?

The term "dumpster fire" appears to precede the widespread public adoption of social media. An early reference in a movie review of Texas Chainsaw Massacre appears in a newspaper from 2003, with the reviewer expressing disgust for the film. An Urban Dictionary from 2008 is another early trace of the slang term online. It appears that communities of sports fans used the term around this era to describe teams and situations that were utterly screwed up.

*Turns on the news* 2019


But the term really ignited in the summer of 2016, when it appeared in public commentaries and inspired explainer pieces across the media. Often, the 2016 Presidential Campaign was what the term "dumpster fire" was used to describe that summer.

な L-Follow Christopher Sebela @xtop Me in 2006 vs me in 2016 1-800-339-8859 RETWEET 404 RETWEETS LIKES 8:11 PM - 4 Dec 2016 222 404


What Does 'Dumpster Fire' Mean?

A dumpster fire is a dirty, out-of-control situation. Dumpsters are often greasy places full of fuel and bad smells, making them particularly difficult to put out once they begin burning. Calling something a dumpster fire implies that even before it caught aflame, the thing wasn't very appealing. People aren't particularly worried about losing anything important when garbage is on fire, but it does smell bad and possibly create dangers for people and buildings nearby. And nobody wants to deal with the issue.

mari @MusingsOfAGirl Okay, it's that time! Show me what you looked like at the beginning of the decade vs the end! C425


A dumpster fire is a messy disaster happening to something you thought was trash in the first place.

How Is 'Dumpster Fire' Used In Memes?

A visual of one particular dumpster fire in Los Angeles in 2012 became the visual attached to the term in online meme discourse. The video was originally posted by a YouTuber, and then turned into a gif in 2016.

The gif of flames crackling in the blue dumpster was then used by commentators discussing chaotic and messy situations. Nate Silver, political pundit, famously used the gif to describe the Republican Party in 2016.

tte signal ad e Silver @NateSilver538 predictions fa Live look-in at the Republican Party. GIF



To learn more about dumpster fires be sure to check out Know Your Meme's encyclopedia entry for more information.



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