Blacksburg, Va., February 20 - VIRAL HIT: Yassmin Shamma, 20, favorites a new meme circulating Twitter. Photograph: Ricky Lam.

The meme phenomenon

No one could have known that memes would become mainstream. Meet the unusual Internet phenomenon that has transformed communication today.

Ricky Lam - February 22, 2017

         In recent years, it is not rare to casually scroll through a social media feed and encounter different iterations of the same image: the meme.

        “I think what memes do is they take serious or regular situations and make light of them by poking fun at it,” said Fatima Tauqir, a student at George Washington University.

        According to The Daily Dot, Internet memes have crossed into mainstream culture. One school board member utilized memes to inform students about snow emergencies; GoDaddy’s Super Bowl commercial portrayed prominent Internet icons. Meme culture shows no sign of stopping as more public figures and brands adopt recent trends to reach a new audience: the digital generation. This form of remix culture would not have started without the participation of digital savvy users like the average college student.

        “The process of remixing itself is not new, but what is new is the ability to do it so fast and so easily and spread it to basically millions of people in a relatively short time,” said Dr. Natalia Mielczarek, an assistant professor at Virginia Tech.

What do you meme?

College students were asked what was their favorite meme and to try to recreate them.

Merrifield, Va, Feb. 19 - #DRAKING: Fatima Tauqir, 19, poses as Drake looking at his phone shockingly. "My favorite meme is Drake in the club and he’s checking his phone and has this look of complete horror on his face. And the caption is, 'when you’re trying to have a lit night and you get a Blackboard notification and it says exam 1: 33%.' I relate to that so much," Tauqir said. Photograph: Ricky Lam.

Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 20 - #ARTHUR: Ahmad Ayub, 18, attempts to recreate the angry Arthur meme. "I used to watch Arthur a lot as a kid and it’s one of my favorite shows. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that picture before and I think it’s so funny that it turned into a meme and it died so quickly," Ayub said. Photograph: Ricky Lam.

Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 21 - #EVILKERMIT: Sue Jung, 20, poses as the Kermit the Frog meme where he acts as a representation of bad decisions. Photograph: Ricky Lam.

Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 20 - #DOGE: Annie Karta, 20, presents her Shiba Inu pillow. "My favorite meme is the doge meme for a couple of reasons. First, I love dogs. Second, it’s always funny when you portray human emotions onto animals because it’s so much funnier and so much cuter when a dog is reacting to something than a human," Karta said. Photograph: Ricky Lam.

            It is not hard to see or hear about a new meme making its way across digital platforms. As memes are becoming simpler than ever to create, it opens a new form of expression oftentimes through humorous means.

           While humor plays a huge part in grabbing a college student’s attention, the original template might offer a completely different portrayal. The 2011 U.C. Davis incident involving a cop pepper-spraying demonstrators has become a meme where Internet users mocked the cop’s casual brutality by placing him in comedic situations.

          “I think what I found — in that meme in particular — is that people actually turn it into a meme as a way of responding to the injustice of what they saw. A lot of these memes are stupid and funny, but a lot of them have a message as a response to the original photograph,” Mielczarek said.

         As memes create a digital platform, the cultural phenomenon allows college students to engage with each other more than ever.

        “Memes can connect to anyone and any culture which I think is so fun and so crucial because it brings friend groups together. It’s a source of happiness that everyone can relate to,” Tauqir said.

        Despite the fun and humorous aspects being its allure, memes have paved a new way to communicate in a digital-intensive future.

Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 21 - #HURTBAE: Andrea Pereira recreates the new trend of a boyfriend admitting that he cheated on his girlfriend. "It went viral super quickly and people started using it for other things. People would just make it so relevant to your life now and that’s why I find them so funny," Pereira said. Photograph: Ricky Lam.

Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 21 - #ROLLSAFE: Misganaw Mengiste, 19, models actor Kayode Ewumi by grinning and pointing his finger at his temple. Photograph: Ricky Lam. 

Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 20 - #DREWSCANLON: Yassmin Shamma, 19, mimics Drew Scanlon's reaction. "His facial expression is how I feel in class when people confuse me and I’m confused a lot," Shamma said. Photograph: Ricky Lam.

Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 21 - #KARDASHIAN: Luisa Lacsamana, 21, poses as Kim Kardashian meme. "It’s so funny and Kim Kardashian makes a really ugly face and it’s just relatable when you get emotional," Lacsamana said. Photograph: Ricky Lam.


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