May 24, 2019 | 60° F

LILIKAS: Memes are unknowingly shaping 21st century culture

Opinions Column: Digital Canvas


The internet wants to tell us that 2016 has been the worst year in human history. And although some pretty terrible things have occurred since last January, is it too absurd to think this is just us millennials being melodramatic? This isn’t too far-fetched of an idea. 

I mean, come on, 11,000 people commemorated Harambe, the gorilla killed at the Cincinnati Zoo, by writing in their votes for him to be their President of the United States. With the assistance of the internet, people have learned to use their online voice to stand up for things they feel strongly about, or the things they feel have made this year the worst ever. People are no longer passive. In fact, it seems like, as a society, we have more to say about everything and something to say about anything. Our opinions are stronger and our voices are louder than ever with the help of social platforms and their immense popularity. Our fingers never stop typing and scrolling in this day and age because there is not a moment that passes where we are not attached to our phones or staring at a screen. But with all of the unfortunate events happening in our world today, I believe it has made us a generation of cynics.

We try to be humorous about the things that are most troubling. The more cynical you are online, the more popularity you seem to gain. And we all know the kind of endorphin rush we get when we our phones buzz with a new notification. My most passive-aggressive, pessimistic tweets are the ones that have been favorited and retweeted the most because it is just easier to laugh off hard-hitting issues instead of embracing the struggle and overcoming them. Because humor, too, is a great way to overcome struggle without directly addressing the problem. And this is the reason I like to call 2016 the year of the meme. People use memes to sometimes downplay serious problems in the world and use humor to heal. And if you don’t believe that, search any worldly or current issues into Google with the word “meme” next to it, and you’ll be surprised by the plethora of results. Of course, they are used to just get a quick chuckle, too, being that they are easy to create, almost always relatable, and simple to share. Look at any millennial's photo stream and you’ll find at least a handful of “dank memes” saved in there.

Aside from using memes to get a laugh through the difficult times (cough Election 2016 cough), they seem to be a great source of information. And yes, I mean that in all sincerity. This is the age of information, meaning that we tend to get too much knowledge thrown at us at once, which I suppose is also the crisis of being in the information age. Small headlines and short updates on Twitter and Facebook are filling our brains and our news feeds faster than we can even realize. These small snippets of information are always being thrown at us, so why not make them funny enough to go viral and have everyone in the know, right? 

Many only know a little something about everything, but most don’t know very much about just one thing. Even if memes are meant to be a joke, they still manage to spark conversation with even the most unlikely of people, making people more knowledgeable just one meme at a time. Images seem to speak louder than words for many people, so memes are a painless way to get us younger generations thinking. I’m only a little embarrassed to admit this, but if there is an image or meme out there that I don’t understand, I will take the time to look up its meaning because society now is full of people that never want to miss a beat, including myself. Science has even researched the power of the meme and found that internet searches have increased more than ever because of them. Even if our facts are skewed or misinterpreted or many times biased based on what website or profile you get your information from, at least conversations are being started. Some of the more sensitive topics are discussed more and more, so we should give more credit to this weird 2016 internet trend.

Memes are a lot of fun and still pretty powerful and influential over the internet community, which we all know is beyond enormous. Without even realizing, they are shaping 21st century culture.

Epatia Lilikas is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in English and economics. Her column, “Digital Canvas,” runs monthly on Wednesdays.

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Epatia Lilikas

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