Memes: Friend or Foe?


Minh Hua

As college students often handle heavy study loads and an uncertain future, memes are a much-needed alternative to drugs. There is something exquisitely simple about memes: the way they make us chuckle and smartly poke fun at our society’s pitfalls. However, there are people who are staunchly opposed to memes, criticizing their insensitivity in serious matters and their general pointlessness.

So who’s right? As masters of our future, I believe that it is our solemn duty to analyze the phenomenon of memes and to understand their lasting effects on the minds and souls of our youths. Without a proper understanding, we could be enjoying memes for all the wrong reasons.

The word “meme” originated from The Selfish Gene, a book by Richard Dawkins that attempts to explain how cultural information spreads. The advent of the Internet facilitated such a spreading of “cultural information,” allowing people from across the globe to instantly connect with one another. Naturally, we chose to share witty commentary on our societal shortcomings with one another.

During the Thomas Fire, the UCSB Fiery Meme Cuisine for Ashy Teens page blew up in popularity. Every Gaucho who was not choking from the toxic ashes was busy making memes. From song parodies like “Closer to the Fire” to a re-dubbed version of “Hitler Reacts To…,” the page was saturated with ashy teens who tried to make sense of the situation.

Without a doubt, the Thomas Fire was a serious matter that claimed many victims’ homes, and an outside observer could criticize the UCSB meme page for its insensitivity. However, it was never the intention of any UCSB meme creator to laugh at the plight of the victims.

For UCSB students who struggled with confusion and chaos, memes were just a way to stay sane during an insane situation. Memes were a way to laugh at a situation where no amount of human intervention could have fixed. For example, rather than criticize Chancellor Yang for his inability to perform the miracle of making the sky clear, we poked fun at the fact that he is only human. Memes were another way of saying that Gauchos were in the same boat, and the sharing of memes was a beautiful sharing of brotherhood and sisterhood.

Memes can also be meaningless. In fact, the funniest memes are always the stupidest ones. For example, take Big Shaq’s “Man’s Not Hot.” More than half of the song was incomprehensible popping and explosion sounds. But the video blew up, and Big Shaq even got his own music video.

Recently, a band of Ugandan Knuckles have overtaken the Internet, shouting the message “Do you know da wae?” as they looked for their queens. You might be tempted to ask, “what’s the point?” but you have to realize that there is no point.

As college students, we are taught daily to make meaning out of the incredibly mundane. We are drilled to squeeze out every last drop of analysis from Faulkner. We are forced to recognize patterns and revelations across data tables. It is no wonder that the senselessness of memes provides a reprieve from the rigors of academics.

With this nonsensical nature that teenagers across the nation experience, there comes a connection with memes. Perhaps an age of uncertain nuclear war and endless violence have created a dissonance between us and society. We are no longer able to make sense of anything, and memes are the resulting reaction to the chaos and confusion.

Without the existence of memes, bands of enraged teenagers everywhere would be rioting in the streets and venting their disappointment about the ridiculousness of life. However, since memes do exist, those bands of violent teenagers are replaced by Ugandan Knuckles.

Memes are harmless. They are innocent. They are what you make them out to be. If memes fail to make you laugh, then you are more than welcome to enjoy the brilliant comedic genius of talents like Conan O’Brien or Jerry Seinfeld.

I, on the other hand, choose to look deeper, beyond the nonsense, to see a magnificent artifact of human connection. I really believe that if everyone in the world spent less time fighting and more time looking at memes, world peace won’t be just a pipe dream. No matter who you are, you can’t fight if you’re busy looking at memes.