Why are memes so ingrained in student culture?

With meme pages becoming an ever present staple in student’s lives, Milena Barnes examines why they are so popular

Much like the emergence of the Renaissance in 14th century Italy, a new art form has dawned on our millennial horizon: memes. From the enigmatic vine compilation that graces your Youtube recommendations, to a humble doug meme that imparts age-old content, the meme is an undeniable feature in our social media saturated lives. Does a day go by when someone doesn’t tag you in a meme, you breathe air through your nose a little harder than usual, and a long stream of laughing-crying emojis is typed in response alongside “that’s so me!!!”?

We all have our favourite Vines. Mine is of a woman sitting on a bus, looking out the window. Her hand lays absentmindedly on the seat. The person behind the camera reaches out, touches her hand and as the woman turns to see who had just made contact she has look of expectancy on her face, of excitement. When she sees that it’s only a stranger, she sharply pulls her hand away in shock. This is the Vine. It’s hilarious.

“Six second Vines. Quick punchlines at the top of a picture we’ve seen adapted a thousand times.”

The meme is a viral phenomenon. An intrinsic element embedded in our student culture. So what is the elusive dank meme? Academic Patrick Davison, in his essay “The Language of Internet Memes” defined memes as: “An Internet meme is a piece of culture, typically a joke, which gains influence through online transmission.” A meme is a fad. A short-lived trend, usually in the form of a picture or a video that will spread like the plague, one retweet at a time. The easier it is to adapt the meme the more successful it will be. The more obscure the meme, the more popular. The meme is absurd – the odder, the better. The LOLcat no longer satisfies our niche tastes. We have evolved to a more seasoned wit.

College memes have become a subculture in themselves, with many students being avid followers of Trinity Collidge and Trinity College Doggos on Facebook. These meme pages that narrate student life, and the stresses and issues that come with it, have grown exponentially in popularity over the past few years. Constantly, meme appreciators flock together forming increasingly rarified communities who share niche, self-deprecating memes in their exclusive corner of the internet.

So what is it about memes that has us hooked? Why do some speak exclusively in Vine references? Why do we all have degree specific meme pages, poking fun at the professor that is always late, and that one guy that answers all the lecturers rhetorical questions? What is so appealing about these bizarre, badly-captioned pictures?

Millenials are the great multi-taskers. Catch us watching Netflix, while talking on the phone, while making a cup of tea. We have been deemed the most “stressed out” generation. Our lives are busier than ever before, competition amongst us is more intense than ever before. We’re told to “work harder” and “earn more”. Time is precious. One of the reasons why memes are so effective for students is their easily consumable nature. Six second Vines. Quick punchlines at the top of a picture we’ve seen adapted a thousand times. Much like how a whole conversation on Messenger can be shortened to an abbreviation, so can our daily hit of humour. It’s the equivalent to needing to crash in bed and binge watch Netflix at the end of the day instead of picking up that book we’ve been meaning to read for months. Memes have become ingrained in our culture, not because of our laziness, but because of sheer exhaustion.

That is not the full spectrum. Not only are we the most informed generation, we are the generation that is increasingly coming to terms with the fact that it is down to us to fix the daunting issues of our time. Can we complete an innocent scroll down our Facebook timeline without seeing a turtle whose choking on plastic, Donald Trump saying something more sexist than the day before, or seeing rental prices rising by another 5%?

One definition for meme in the Urban Dictionary is “the cure of depression”. When you type in “memes” in the Google search bar, a closed group called “memes that cured my depression” pops up immediately. You’ll see a Vine compilations that claim to save you from ending it all, or memes that redeem me. Of course this is a joke, but you can’t help explore it a little.  

“Memes will not cure depression, and they certainly won’t be the antidote to the ever growing problems we face today, but maybe that Vine reference can make us feel a little more connected behind our anonymous screens.”

Laughter has always been the best medicine, but there is something about the meme that deems it a more resourceful coping mechanism. Not only does the meme, like all humour, enable us to make light of our difficulties and challenges of adulthood but when we relate to that vague caption typed carelessly above that obscure picture, you can’t help feeling that you are not alone. When a meme relates to you, that has been shared a thousand times, that a thousand people have tagged a thousand of their friends in, despite its ridiculousness, you think that maybe what you are feeling isn’t so outrageous after all. For us, the meme narrates student life as a collective experience, more effectively than any other platform has before, because of its ability to transform the absurdities around us into not only into bite-sized humour, but into a network that can connect to all the other struggling, awkward young adults that feel the same way as you do.

Memes may not be the tool that our generation will brandish against the ailments of our society. Memes will not cure depression, and they certainly won’t be the antidote to the ever growing problems we face today, but maybe that Vine reference can make us feel a little more connected behind our anonymous screens, and that meme can make us feel a little more included in our fractured, divided world.

Milena Barnes

Milena Barnes is a former Features Editor of Trinity News.