Vidya Ramesh explores how memes have become the new panacea to coping with the pressures of student life…
When scientist Richard Dawkins coined the term ‘meme’ as a unit of human cultural evolution in The Selfish Gene back in 1989, it was highly doubtful that he envisaged the term being applied to .jpg files of Evil Kermit emblazoned with capitalised text speak.
The memes of the 21st century do not reproduce at an evolutionary rate – they are viral, contagious and addictive. I can no longer watch Lord of the Rings without cringing as Boromir raises his finger: the words “one does not simply…” that accompany his bespoke internet meme flash before my eyes. There are nights where I am sleepless, fearing that my Yearbook photo will be cut and pasted onto Facebook as a ‘Bad Luck Brian’ meme by one of my frenemies from sixth form.
Memes have come to define the lives of the Generation Y, as Rachel Aroesti acknowledges in her article ‘Of Muppets and millennials’. But their effect on the student subsection has been no less than staggering. Gone are the days where prospective university applicants stalk their campus’ page on The Student Room or an Offer Holders group on Facebook. It’s now 2017, and with a new year comes a new index of measuring quality of life on campus: the meme.
An anonymous student from the University of Cambridge kicked things off with ‘Memebridge’: “I wanted to start Memebridge to give Cambridge a platform where students could really connect on all the issues we have that don’t often get highlighted in a humourous and interesting way”.
The University of Oxford then decided to not just one-up, but three-up its historic arch-rival, spawning ‘Oxmeme’, ‘The Memeing Spires of Oxford’ and ‘Oxford Dank Memes Society’. Durhameme was next, forming an alliance with Oxmeme. In retaliation Memebridge called upon Royal Memeoway, before ditching them for Memeperial.
The inter-campus war of memes is a lot to take in, but why are students taking memes so seriously in the first place? I remember giggling with elation as I saw the number of Facebook likes for the meme I posted to Memebridge rise from 50 to over 200 within the space of two hours. I felt consoled, honoured even, that the anguish communicated in my meme of Simba from The Lion King, pining to go clubbing in the holidays, was shared by so many fellow students on campus.
For Phil, second year Earth Sciences student at Cambridge, memes are a form of escapism: “We make memes that are nihilist and angsty because university is so consuming. Take a step back and you’re in a lovely place, with your friends, doing your choice of subject – but it can be tricky to see that”
University should be the best time of our lives, but the adage “young and carefree” is sounding ever more like a broken record in the post-Brexit, post-Trump age.
At some point or another the bitter pill we might have to swallow would be to take a step back from the meme – much like stepping back into the real world of student life and out of the dream.
Hi there, my name is Vidya and I’m an undergraduate student reading History at the University of Cambridge. I grew up in Manchester, the birthplace of the Guardian and Suffragette movement; it was impossible not be continually aware of the power of activism, solidarity, and liberal politics. On campus I try to channel these incredibly charged ideas into practical action, particularly in regards to the welfare of students who identify as women. As a director for a student-run think-tank, The Wilberforce Society, I have overseen events on raising the participation of women in public policy, while also co-authoring a policy paper on sexual assault policies within higher education institutions. As a campaign manager for my University’s Women’s Campaign I am also organising a programme of activities to help female students tackle anxiety. In my spare time I enjoy powerlifting (still at a novice level, sadly), as well as living ethically to the best of my ability, such as by following a vegan lifestyle (#vegangainz). As an NUS Journalist I hope to raise awareness of the events taking place on campus that centre around the three concepts I mentioned before: activism, solidarity, and liberal politics. Whether in the form of an intersectional feminist reading group, to a disabilities rally outside the students’ union, you will be sure to hear it hot-off-the-press from me!