by Katherine Schloss
Where the heck did memes come from? Open any social media app and you’re immediately hit by memes about everything from politics to celebrities. Every public event is slyly condensed into a little joke that is a commentary on the unraveling of our society. I feel that memes somehow become an ironic portrayal of the darkest fears of Millenials and Gen Z. Through memes it is acceptable to absolutely decimate someone’s character or make a very serious topic into something that somehow commodifies it into a comedic bit for the entertainment of the “woke” masses. Memes bring people together, just as our own university’s Facebook meme page unites the edgy teens for miles around in their common goal to craft poignant pieces on the culture that they mutually take part in.
This condensed commodification certainly reflects an ever-decreasing ability to focus on something. Everything must be cut down into digestible skits… like SNL on steroids. On social media, our lives are conveyed by a few words, some strange emojis, and carefully curated content. We create our own little art exhibits, raw and vulnerable and on full display 24/7. What does all of this say about our culture? Are we more aware? Is our ability to curate the things that are happening around us into such a stylized, clean look a reflection of our shallowness, or an increased productivity? I think that memes can be different in that they display a certain agency. While it is true that they can become mainstream, they’re not made to feed their creator’s ego, but rather to facilitate a connection between young people that aren’t willing to take any more bulls***. We are creating our own curated worlds, taking what is relevant to us as young people and crafting a new world within the realm of technology and likes and retweets. This brings about a danger of suddenly becoming unable to care about things that aren’t carefully curated to our taste. Our Facebook feeds spit out what we want to hear, targeted ads hit us at every turn, and our Instagram feed projects the “best,” most aesthetically pleasing and socially acceptable points of our days. Memes, on the other hand, are defined as, “a humorous image, video, piece of text, etc., that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users.” Therefore, this massive amount of consumption that is occurring also allows for a new art form to emerge. The urban dictionary says that memes, “are a lifestyle and art used by teens and adults who are willing to actually live a life that doesn't include depression.” That definition in itself is rightfully meme-worthy. I often hear people say “that’s such a meme” which makes me wonder when people aren’t doing things just so that they’ll be worthy of being commodified on social media into a small picture/text combo. Regardless, I do see memes as a way that we can fight back with comedic relevance against the ever-stressing world that we’re being pushed into. If we can’t laugh at ourselves, we certainly can’t face the confusion of the world that was created by all those preceding us.
I talked to two of my friends who make memes for The Free Peach, a satirical publication produced online by students from UC Berkeley. One, my roommate, said, “I find my inspiration from current events, media trends, and the many meme accounts I follow, but also from my friends. Some of the most relatable content is just a result of listening to what people around you are saying.” When asked how meme culture has become so rampant, she replied, “I feel like memes are so loved by our generation because they remind us not to take life too seriously, that everything is a joke, and also of the importance of ~~Free Speech~~.” The other social media editor told me, “I find meme inspo from situations that I am in or have experienced! I'll take a photo and then usually see it's meme potential right away. Or, something will come up in conversation, a person will say something funny or unique, and it will instantly trigger a meme response.” Therefore, memes can be seen as a reflection of capturing spontaneity, in comparison to when one carefully chooses an Instagram photo out of a long string of carefully-staged moments. She said, “I think memes are rampant because they create a sort of standardized and digestible joke. One meme format can be applied to a ton of different circumstances so it's easy to create a middle ground for people. Someone says something and instantly a couple people see it through the lens of memes. Also, memes are spread so fast and there is always new content so it's a form of humor that anyone can dabble in and find something that makes them laugh.” I hope that this post was easy and breezy like the memes that we hold so dear. Sweet memes my friends!