Memes and Truth

“Meme formats — from this week’s American Chopper dialectic model to the ‘Exploding Brain’, ‘Distracted Boyfriend’ and ‘Tag Yourself’ templates — are by their very nature iterative and quotable. That is how the meme functions, through reference to the original context and the memes that have gone before, coupled with creative remixing to speak to a particular audience or topic or moment. Each new instance of a meme is thereby automatically familiar and recognisable. The format carries a meta-message to the audience: “This is familiar, not weird.” And the audience is pre-prepared to know how to react to this: you like, you “haha” emoji, and you tag your friends in the comments.

The format acts as a kind of Trojan Horse, then, for sharing difficult feelings — because the format pre-primes the audience to respond in a hospitable mode. There isn’t that moment of feeling stuck about how to respond to your friend’s big emotional disclosure, because she hasn’t made the big statement quite directly, but through irony and cultural quotation — distanced through memes typically using stock photography (as Leigh Alexander notes) rather than anything as gauche as a picture of oneself. This enables you the viewer to sidestep the full intensity of it in your response, should you choose (but still, crucially, to respond). And also to DM your friend and ask, “Hey, are you alright?” and cut to the realtalk should you so choose, too.

So a space is created, to talk about being stressed and overwhelmed and unsure of the meaning of anything we do — a space which is, I believe, more open than it has been in the past. As the mod of UC Berkeley Memes for Edgy Teens says, this “gets the conversation going, as I don’t think it would have even started without it.”

And this is how memes help people speak truths.”