We’ve all heard, hundreds of times, about how we’re “living in the information age” and how “social media has become the dominant form of communication.” Inundated as we are with these notions of an increasingly digital social landscape, it’s rare that we’re surprised by a sensation spreading rapidly through the depths of the internet.
Yet even against this “information age” backdrop, the sheer speed with which the college-specific meme craze has exploded in popularity across the nation is, well, remarkable. Over the course of a couple weeks it has grown at such an exponential rate that today you will be hard-pressed to find a college or university without an [insert institution name here] memes Facebook page.
At this point, it’s probably worth backtracking a bit to define exactly what is meant by “college-specific meme.” According to Urban Dictionary — the obvious authority on such matters — the top definition of an Internet meme is “a short phrase, picture or combination of the two that gets repeated in message boards and [chat rooms] for far, far longer than anything ever ought to be.”
The college-specific memes, then, are comprised of the pictures from well-known, pre-existing memes with new phrases overlaid on them relating to the university in question or its surrounding area. Whether they’re repeated “far longer than anything ought to be,” though, is in the eyes of the beholder.
On Thursday, Feb. 9, UR joined the movement with the creation of its very own UR Memes page by junior Cindy Zu. In the week since then, the page has been liked by nearly 1,700 Facebook users, and well over 200 UR memes have been posted on the page. Within days of its formation, the Rochester Institute of Technology created a similar page dedicated to RIT memes.
“It just shows the power of social media,” Zu remarked. “I don’t think there are many things that could be circulated this fast.”
According to Zu, UR Memes came out of humble beginnings. When she started the group, she invited only 30 friends to be a part of it, and created the first five memes herself to get the ball rolling. As she hoped would be the case, however, the group began ballooning in size and popularity within hours. The unstoppable meme train had been set in motion.
While Zu characterized the page as “lighthearted” and “humorous,” she also noted that she feels UR Memes could grow into something more impactful, perhaps even becoming a vehicle for University improvement.
“The main thing that’s really come out of it is that it’s a means for the student body not just to vent, but also to get what they want to say out there — about the school, the administration or something they like or don’t like,” she explained.
Junior Alex Murray expressed a similar sentiment. “There seems to be a lot of stuff [on UR Memes] aimed at Danforth and food service, for example,” he said. “I just went to a Dining Services meeting and I feel very satisfied with what they’re doing, but if [UR Dining] looked at UR Memes somehow, then I could definitely see it changing campus in some way.”
While Zu and Murray hope the page might have a positive influence on University policy, UR Memes has not been without its fair share of controversy. Zu mentioned that she received personal complaints regarding one meme that targeted and slandered a particular fraternity. To date, this is the only meme that Zu has removed from the page.
Zu compared what she doesn’t want UR Memes to become to what College ACB was before it was shut down last year — an arena for students to bash (and in some, albeit much rarer cases, to compliment) individuals or specific groups and organizations.
That being said, Zu emphasized that she wants to keep censorship on the page to a minimum.
“UR kids are smart, they know where the line is and when not to cross it,” she said. “I posted something a couple days ago saying ‘if you do decide to … post something flagrantly racist or sexist, 1,600 people are going to let you know.’ So, it’ll moderate itself if anything.”
Beyond any controversies, however, a proportion of the student body also feels that UR memes are — to put it simply — just not funny. Junior Zach Bailey is among this group; he posted a meme on the page that read “there’s a point where this needs to stop, and we’ve clearly passed it.”
“It’s like beating a dead horse, that’s what this is,” Bailey said. “Nobody’s going to get it except for people at the University, and even then, how many people are going to laugh at it?”
Zu, though, has a succinct piece of advice for those who aren’t fans of the growing meme momentum: “Unlike the page.”
“That’s the beauty of it all — if you have a problem with it, you don’t have to see [the memes],” she went on. “But I think people are enjoying them more often than not.”
Fleming is a member of the class of 2013.