Memes: The New Social Phenomenon

In an era where the Internet reigns supreme in the lives of the young adults, you see them everywhere. Just log into your Facebook or Tumblr account and you’ll see hundreds of the comic-like pictures. They are the memes—popular images and graphics that use various reoccurring themes to convey a humorous message viewers can often relate to.

Their origin can be traced to pioneering sites such as 4chan and Reddit, where they continue their spread at impressive rates. As ubiquitous as they are in multiple social networking platforms, this emerging social phenomena has both fascinated and puzzled researchers and marketing professionals alike. The rapid growth of memes of different forms have even prompted web sites in their honor, as well as a web series called “Know Your Meme” which was later adapted to a television show in March 2011, documenting the origin and rise of the most viral characters and images on the Web.

Some of the most popular memes incorporate reaction faces and phrases that make fun of everyday situations that would normally be considered serious. The Socially Awkward Penguin is in a meme category known as advice animals, which depicts an animals with a color wheel background. The Socially Awkward Penguin narrates uncomfortable encounters like “Start telling a joke…forget your punchline” and “You wave back. They weren’t waving at you… pretend to adjust your hair.” From its emergence in 2009, The Socially Awkward Penguin remains a popular meme.

The “Forever Alone” Guy is one of this kind, depicting a despondent looking Rage face on a dark blue background. Prior to the explosion of other meme categories, Rage Comics pioneered the imageboard of 4chan, one of the meme capitals of the Internet, portraying various demeanors and thoughts associated with certain situations. The rudimentary sketches that make up the Rage faces are what make the meme category comical to begin with, but the punchline, expressed in capital letters, add the real kick in mocking unfortunate social situations.

The “Forever Alone” Guy, in his own pitiful despair, pays particular homage to single individuals, but while it would normally be considered mean to poke fun at their relationship status, the point is to show that the best way to enjoy it is to be facetious about it. Some notable examples include “My girlfriend is like my iPad…. I don’t have an iPad” and “I’m going to spend Valentine’s Day with my Ex… Box 360.” Since its rise in 2009, The “Forever Alone” Guy promoted the emergence of other Rage faces on 4chan and online comedy sites, such as the “Y U No” guy, a disgruntled character with its hands outstretched, speaking with broken grammar to voice frustration and the “Me Gusta” Guy, who is commonly found expressing satisfaction in awkward situations. Rage faces have expanded beyond single images to vertical comic strips and animations.

Due to their relateable appeal, the language that characterize Rage comic and advice animal memes, including broken grammar and SMS shorthand have been integrated into the way in which online users interact. While it is clear that such usage would be unfitting in a more formal setting, it has become commonplace in everyday conversation, which offers a plethora of benefits. For the more socially reserved, sharing GIFs online can help ease the transition into conversations. Similarly, memes may act as a medium to break the ice with a potential romantic interest, to express one’s comedic side, or to convey that one is in the know in the Internet community. Broken phrases including “Y U No” and hashtags, or phrases used as tagging methods, may be terse, but speak volumes about the extent of an individual’s involvement in social networking sites. Because memes have exploded into such a rampant social phenomenon, the most active age groups on the Internet, primarily adolescents and young adults, place high value on being a part of it. Thus, our generation uses memes as a tool to relate to each other in the social arena.

Recently, Facebook pages of memes have emerged dedicating the memes specific to the student experience at various universities. Since early February, UC Riverside has joined the craze, with students generating their own memes using online generators and sharing them on the UCR Memes page. Within 24 hours, over 1,700 users liked the page.

The First World Problems meme is among the scores of popular images, featuring the face of a young woman in tears, quibbling over frivolous problems that only privileged individuals would do. Judging from the many likes garnered, students have nonetheless identified with her: “Meets with Academic Advisor…ends up even more confused,” and “The trolley service is cancelled. Now I have to walk to the UV.” Other memes, such as the “Y U No” guy, have lamented, “Kmart on Iowa… Y U No Target.” Another “Y U No” has the text, “UCR memes…Y U No let me sleep” encapsulates the social craze across the UC Riverside community.

Today, there are two Facebook pages for memes centered around the UCR experience. Both have reached well over 2,000 likes, and have been circulating on countless UCR student’s pages. One meme that is specific to UCR is the image of the woman on classes.ucr.edu, which is paired with different texts that relate to campus life. The tone of the meme is to discuss problems UCR students encounter in a sarcastic manner, such as, “School budget crisis…hires Lil Jon to perform.” Another reads, “Assigns you an early registration date…crashes GROWL when you log in.”

As one can see, there are hundreds of memes revolving around the UCR experience. Some touch upon problems that students have with mobilenet, others are about disappointing UCR Dining experiences, even more about the pestering petitioners that approach students passing the Bell Tower.

Suffice it to say, memes serve as both a creative and comical medium to find commonalities with individuals of the same group. When asked about the reason behind his interest in memes, third year Jeffrey Reichenberger describes, “It’s like an abridged story from a friend that’s both funny and sad.”

Senior Vivek Kommineni reasons, “They all have some truth behind it and most people like to laugh at themselves and say ‘Oh, I guess it’s true.” Hence, it is no wonder that our students can spend over an hour scrolling through memes alone, with an addictiveness attributable to their tongue-in-cheek humor.

Nonetheless, the success of the meme depends on the right delivery. While some UCR memes have found success in mocking situations that pester the UCR student, others have been overlooked or deemed irrelevant. For the more involved Facebook user, it is advisable to follow the formula in generating memes: incorporate bold text and make sure the phrases are witty and short-and-sweet. Otherwise, you might just #FAIL or end up like the Socially Awkward Penguin.

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