Mogilevsky: NU Memes an indicator of campus culture

Miriam Mogilevsky

Last week NU students’ productivity probably hit an all-time low thanks to Northwestern Memes.

This Facebook page, which was started Tuesday night by two McCormick freshmen, had more than 2,000 likes just one day later. In case anyone is still unfamiliar, “memes” in this context are images containing characters and text that can be recaptioned to make jokes.

One well-known character is “Scumbag Steve,” a guy in a brown sideways cap who likes to mess things up for people. Another is “Forever Alone,” a malformed crying face that can never seem to find a girlfriend. Then there’s “Success Kid,” a cute toddler making a fist and winning at life.

Many of these memes are hilarious, and you can kill hours looking at them and making your own. However, they also reveal a lot about the people who make them and about the subjects of their jokes.

For me, the popularity of Northwestern Memes put to rest any lingering doubts about the existence of a comMonday, campus-wide culture at NU.

Many people seem to believe that we don’t have one.

For instance, administrators are continually trying to build community by starting new traditions like the March Thru the Arch during Wildcat Welcome Week (oxymoronic as “new traditions” are).

We have initiatives like One Book One Northwestern, which aims to provide a common experience for incoming freshmen by having them all read the same book.

Students feel it too. The 2009 ASG initiative oNe Northwestern attempted to start a conversation about our supposed lack of community, though the project seems to have died.

And when the Keg closed recently, many NU students bemoaned the fact that this one unifying aspect of our college experience was now gone forever.

But Northwestern Memes challenges the assumption that we lack a campus culture.After all, for a meme to succeed it must appeal to viewers’ shared experiences.

If our campus were as fragmented as some people think it is, it’d be impossible to make memes that many people will understand, because everyone’s version of the NU experience would be way too different from everyone else’s.

Quite the contrary, many images posted to the group have gotten hundreds of likes, and some have been reposted on individuals’ Facebook profiles dozens of times.

For instance, a Boromir meme stating, “One does not simply go back on CAESAR” has been liked 343 times. Clearly the clunkiness of the CAESAR site is something we can all agree on.

Furthermore, it really says something that more than 3,000 students have now joined a page that exists solely for the purpose of making and looking at nerdy Internet jokes.

Say what you will about some students’ inability to use memes correctly – and plenty of comments on the page say exactly that – we’re clearly not as cool as we like to act sometimes.

Naturally, not everything on the Northwestern Memes page portrays us in a positive light.

For example, I saw many memes suggesting that there aren’t any attractive girls or guys at NU. While this is a common stereotype, I find it to be completely false; there are tons of people here who are beautiful both inside and out.

The prevalence of these memes say more about the preferences of the people making them about the actual attractiveness of NU students.

The page is also a hotbed of racial stereotypes. Aside from the (sadly) expected jokes about Asian Americans in engineering classes, there are also several “Successful Black Man” memes.

These images feature an African American man in a suit and tie. The top part of the image contains a phrase that references a racist assumption about African Americans, while the bottom part continues the sentence in a way that makes it clear that the man is actually a “successful” black man.

For instance, one says: “I beat my girl / in a fair game of racquetball at SPAC.”

While these memes are obviously disappointing, they can be helpful in exposing racial biases usually left unspoken.

At NU, dialogues about race typically begin only when a blatantly racist incident occurs, such as the blackface costumes in 2009 or the recent taunting of a Hispanic girl. (But by the way, one of the memes on the page references the blackface incident as something Scumbag Steve would do if invited to a Halloween party.)

In short, the Northwestern Memes page can be a great way to procrastinate, but it can also reveal a lot about our campus culture. We have a lot more in common than we think.

Miriam Mogilevsky is a Weinberg junior. She can be reached at [email protected]