Memes unite the masses

By Merav Kaufman

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I don’t always check Facebook. But when I do, I make sure to visit the “Umass memes” page.

Greg Kelley/Facebook

Although the page was created just three weeks ago, the concept of a meme is far from new. Defined by Merriam-Webster as “an idea, behavior, style or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture,” the term was coined in 1976 by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins to refer to characteristics that are spread through a population by imitation rather than by genetics.

While the Internet has long facilitated the viral spread of images, videos and websites, only recently did the meme phenomenon gain acknowledgment on Facebook. The “Umass memes” page, created on Feb. 8, currently boasts over 11,400 fans and 180 photos.

With a large campus of over 20,000 students, 88 majors and six different living areas, it can be tricky to find a common thread that connects all students at the University of Massachusetts. The “Umass memes” page has effectively solved this problem: It provides the space for students to share cleverly captioned images that express common sentiments pervading UMass campus life and the American college experience at large.

Once posted, a photo is subject to the critical scrutiny of thousands of students, and, if received favorably, will earn its share of comments and “likes” —the ultimate form of flattery. If decidedly successful, a meme may receive the high honor of being re-posted on the page wall by the ever-elusive page administrator.

Naturally, not all images gain equal recognition and the success of some over others merits its own in-depth analysis of our culture and sense of humor. I’d really like to see someone declare a BDIC in Umass memetics.

Although the wonderfully egalitarian process of sharing memes is somewhat offset by the administrator’s bureaucratic power to re-post them, the page ultimately provides for great laughs and allows one to realize that their personal everyday triumphs and tribulations on campus ring true for many others. Moreover, the page enables students to identify the many quirks of UMass culture.

As students at a large university, we tend to form smaller communities within our majors and living areas. Nevertheless, all students at one point or another have had to brave the campus pond bridge amid two-way traffic and modify our walking routes to avoid W.E.B. Du Bois’ vicious wind tunnel. All students know that “one does not simply get to the top of Orchard Hill,” nor does one “simply ‘walk-in’ to UHS.” Most students have enjoyed “beautiful evenings” at Franklin and have likely mistaken a clean plate at Berkshire for a “fragment of the sun.”

We’ve all fallen prey to the stereotypes surrounding the various living areas on campus, which may or may not be a “social experiment” by the psychology department. The PVTA’s perpetual 10-minute delay has by now worked itself into our internal body clocks. Many of us females like to wear yoga pants on a regular basis because, hey, they happen to be awfully comfortable. We are all fortunate to be part of a large campus that offers all the resources we could possibly need, including the Southwest Beach (minus the water) and the Haigis Mall (minus the mall). These are all common campus experiences the “Umass memes” page has cleverly summarized with a picture and a few words.

The “Umass memes” page has restored my faith in the power of Facebook to unite its users in positive ways. Unlike the exclusive aura surrounding the cryptic wall posts and personal photo albums that dominate our Newsfeeds, Facebook pages openly invite people to unite over a common interest. Unlike most Facebook pages, however, the Meme page’s constant activity facilitates an ongoing process to find commonality with others. Rather than serving as a final destination for a common interest (with its own promotional interests), the Meme page’s interactive nature encourages the continual discovery of common views and experiences among its fans.

Within just three weeks, the “Umass memes” page has remarkably united over half the campus in a positive way that does not entail screaming impolite chants at hockey games or watching the spectacle of 4,010 pounds of food being stir-fried. The memes themselves satisfy our fundamental needs to express ourselves creatively and to find humor in the mundane. Ultimately, the Facebook page enhances student pride in the university and allows its fans to collectively establish a uniform identity as UMass students.

I don’t always visit the “Umass memes” Facebook page. But when I do, I smile because it connects me to the UMass community.

Merav Kaufman is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]