On October 12, at approximately 9:00 p.m., one of our own defied all odds and joined the ranks of the Twitter greats. Max Vale ’18 posted a meme referencing TV show “Parks and Recreation’s” famed “treat yo-self” day, garnering 42,000 retweets and 64,000 likes as of yesterday. By the time the behemoth @CommonWhiteGirl stole his content for her own account, Vale had unofficially gone “viral.”
Specific enough to appeal to one particular fanbase, but brief and vague enough to be engaging to the masses — this tweet is as close to perfect as a meme can get. Replies like “This is so me” and “We need to treat ourselves” speak to the tweet’s #relatable appeal and exemplify why memes themselves are so popular among young adults. Meme culture has developed into a new manner of digitally connecting with friends and strangers across the internet. And oftentimes, the most powerful connections are made in the most dejecting of circumstances, with memes serving as a spot of humor in the face of frustration or disappointment.
Our generation’s use of memes as catharsis is easily identified in the annual online fervor following the PSATs. Many Lowers and Uppers who took the standardized test last week exchanged jokes about the bizarre reading passages and complained about their difficulty and length, all by way of niche memes that made little sense to outsiders. In the aftermath of a highly-pressurized and somewhat nonsensical test, it can feel good to see that someone halfway across the country is just as confused by the toothbrushed tomatoes as you are.
On a larger scale, the whirlwind of the current political climate has inspired constituents across the ideological spectrum to signal boost their politically-charged memes on Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and other sites. A highly-circulated comic by Adam Ellis about common microaggressions dealt with by women, for instance, serves both to educate viewers and to find some sort of dark comedy in an otherwise disheartening situation. In a recent interview with Forbes Magazine, President Donald Trump challenged Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to an IQ test after news broke that Tillerson had allegedly referred to Trump as a “moron.” The internet took this farcical story and ran with it, churning out hundreds of memes within hours of the article’s debut. In a year that has seen a more ludicrous headline every week, sometimes all we can do is remain self-aware about the absurdity of our current news cycle.
For better or for worse, internet memes have evolved to serve as a primary method of emotional relief for our age group, temporary alleviation from the stress of challenging academic circumstances and the craziness and sadness of current events. Though older generations might be a bit puzzled by memes’ role in the cultural zeitgeist, memes have established themselves as a defining factor in Millennial and Gen-Z identity, a viral power for connection and #relatability in times of crisis.