Meme culture thrives at Northwestern, helping students form community

Neya Thanikachalam, Reporter

In today’s digital age, memes have developed as a safe way for students to share their opinions and find a community online.

At Northwestern, students have created and shared memes that cover a variety of topics, ranging from mental health to finals week, on different social platforms. Memes allow people to grapple with frustrations and express their feelings in unconventional ways — according to a recent BBC article, for example, millennials used memes to help cope with the recession.

The most popular platform for NU memes is Facebook, where students can often be seen tagging their friends in the comments. The most popular Facebook page, Northwestern Memes for Networking Teens, has over 14,000 members. There’s also an Instagram page — @northwestern_memes — although it has not been active since May 2018.

For Weinberg and Bienen senior Charlie Collar, who is an administrator for Northwestern Memes for Networking Teens, memes serve as a form of distraction from reality, but don’t necessarily keep him from feeling stressed.

“A lot of memes on our page tend to be very critical of Northwestern as an institution or the culture that there is,” Collar said. “So it kind of brings up a lot of difficult subjects, which I think is healthy, but I don’t think is destressing necessarily.”

Collar said that the admin’s role of monitoring content is not too difficult, as members are usually respectful when they post memes. As an admin, Collar filters accounts to make sure they aren’t fake and checks content to make sure that posts unrelated to Northwestern aren’t posted.

Weinberg first-year Amirah Ford finds memes about Northwestern funny because she likes the idea of a shared community bonding over Northwestern experiences.

“It’s like an inside joke among all of Northwestern,” Ford said.

As meme pages have gained popularity, other digital spaces for NU students have emerged. Pages such as NU Crushes and Confessions, a page that publishes anonymous NU “gossip,” provide a platform for students to post relatable content to a familiar audience –– a trait it shares with other meme pages.

However, Medill junior William Kang, who is an admin of the Facebook page Northwestern Memes for Cultured Teens, said that while viewing and creating memes is entertaining, scrolling online and looking at them too much can actually be harmful.

He added that while some may use dark-humored memes as a coping mechanism, it can never be the solution to the viewers’ problems. Rather than looking at a depression meme when sad, he said walking outside or even looking at a meme with a more positive message is more helpful.

“(Memes are) kind of an expression of people, how people live their lives,” Kang said. “But sometimes when you get too into meme culture, then it becomes too isolating more than anything, because you end up just existing in the online mainly.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated Charlie Collar’s school. Collar is a Weinberg and Bienen senior. The Daily regrets the error.

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