Meme Culture: Why We Are So Obsessed With Memes

2016 was universally a pretty crazy year. We have exclusionary and bigoted rhetoric legitimized in the West, a controversial war on drugs in the Philippines, a staggering death toll in Syria, an impeached South Korean president, and the untimely passing of pop culture icons like Carrie Fisher.

What the year did bless us with, however, apart from new Beyoncé and Gaga albums (YAAAAS), is an abundance of memes to help us grapple with the chaos 2016 relentlessly piled on our fragile minds.

Yes, memes.

While “studying” in my university library, I often find myself mindlessly scrolling through memes on Instagram and Facebook. For many, sifting through hordes of these posts has become as regular as checking for new WhatsApp messages. It’s about time we sit down and evaluate why memes are so addictive to begin with.

They are ridiculously relatable.

It’s safe to say that there are memes out there for everybody, whether you are a wine-chugging single mom of two or a procrastinating high school student. In particular, the latter half of 2016 gave birth to a slew of memes featuring Kermit the Frog in a face-to-face confrontation with his evil, hooded alter ego. This pair quickly became the icon for anything that has to do with giving in to our temptations, ranging from breaking a diet to sleeping with someone who’s off-limits.

Kermit’s new meme depicts a literal reflection of the self, but most of the time, all memes actually aim to mirror different aspects of our lives, no matter how mundane. I often find myself chuckling at the surprising discovery that yes, I am not the only person in the world that thinks about eating pizza and mozzarella sticks in church. (Yes, that was a meme).

They bring people together.

My dictionary defines memes as “a humorous image, video, piece of text, etc., that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users.” And no, this ‘spread’ isn’t just the casual, impersonal click of a button. When I moved to Singapore from my hometown of Manila, I initially found it difficult to keep in touch with old friends from high school who likewise traveled to other corners of the globe for college—that was, until the recent explosion of memes.

My close friends and I rarely keep in touch via long, thorough conversations on Skype. And yet, it’s hard to feel the distance when we’re constantly tagging each other in memes that make us nostalgic about our stupid high school days. The best ones always involve smuggling food into a classroom or being the only sober ones at a party. Ensue the comment: “LOL that’s so us”.

They keep up with the times.

One of the reasons memes will never get boring is that they constantly renew according to real-time political or social contexts. As a result, some of the most pressing moments of 2016 could momentarily be viewed in a humorous and (almost) positive light. When Donald Trump was officially announced as the President-Elect of the United States, social media outlets were flooded with memes featuring the adorable bromance between President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, where the latter would be depicted as hilariously petty and/or sentimental. Harmless jokes about Melania Trump’s infamous plagiarism also emerged, albeit alongside problematic slut-shaming judgments about her background. Netizens all across the world were soaking these up with glee—this was the Internet’s way of coping.

While seemingly trivial, memes are artifacts of pop culture that can both reflect and impact the sentiments of their viewers. Memes are intricately connected to both banal and essential day-to-day happenings, packaging the otherwise neglected realm of politics (and other things that require brainwork) into bite-sized pieces for the general public to enjoy and share.

They remind you to take yourself less seriously.

Perhaps most importantly, as a combined by-product of all of the aforementioned factors, memes can heal—even if in just the most superficial ways. I find myself drawn to memes that tap into some of the most relatable flaws: being unable to finish work on time, failing to resist sending that f*ckboy another text, and sometimes, not being able to get up in the morning because life can feel a bit overwhelming sometimes.

These simple photo-caption bundles remind me that there are people out there who go through similar motions in life, albeit to varying degrees. It’s the solidarity endowed by all this Facebook tagging that puts a transient Band-Aid on the internal chaos. Memes provide the space for us to laugh through the pain, or at the very least, concretize the struggles that we never bothered to caption before.

So as 2017 steps into the picture, I look forward to getting distracted from my study time by tags in more posts about gaining weight over the holidays and not having anyone to kiss on New Year’s Eve.

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