“Williams College Memes has ruined my life,” declared Michael Shelton ’15, creator of the Facebook page. “All I can think about is finding more memes for the page.”
And it appears that Shelton is not alone. With 764 likes in the past week and a half, the page has been abuzz with activity. Campus productivity has plummeted as students pass hours online patrolling the page that has become wildly popular since it was created 11 days ago. “It’s definitely a distraction,” said Meredith Sopher ’14, who frequently follows and posts on the page. “I’ve been known to spend embarrassing amounts of time thinking of the exact right wording and finding the right picture to make a meme.”
For those who are unfamiliar with the concept (congratulations – you have a life), a meme is to culture as a gene is to biology – a discrete unit transmitted from person to person via the Internet, reproducing itself and occasionally incorporating new modifications. Memes often assume the form of photos or videos that individuals customize and share with friends. Recent memes, such as the popular “First World Problems,” feature a standard image for which people create their own humorous captions that relate to a theme, such as extreme privilege. While memes first caught on in the mid-2000s, school-specific memes represent a recent phenomenon. Over the past month, college memes have spread like wildfire, poking fun at campus cultures across the country. Such memes infuse popular preexisting visual templates (such as “Success Kid,” “Insanity Wolf” and “Philoso-raptor”) with school-specific captions and are displayed publically on Facebook group pages.
Shelton kick-started the College’s page on Feb. 10. “I figured I should have five or 10 memes up, so when I started telling people to like it there would be something there,” Shelton said. “So the next day I told everyone who I was friends with, ‘Hey, like this page! It’s super cool!’” Almost immediately, 30 or 40 did. While Shelton was initially aiming for 100 likes, he had received over 600 by the end of the week.
Sarah Freymiller ’13 discovered the page when her boyfriend referenced it as a clue in a Valentine’s Day scavenger hunt. “It said, ‘Why you no go on Williams College memes?’” Freymiller said. “I logged on and was like, ‘This is so great!’” Soon after, she got in on the action. Freymiller, a JA, posted a “First World Problem” meme that speaks directly to an annoyance all too common to first years. It reads, “Reach for candy. Find only condoms.” The caption refers to the fishbowls in first-year entry common rooms that contain both candy and condoms. Within minutes, Su-Gi Min ’13 posted a comment joking that the reverse situation (finding only candy when seeking a condom) would be more troublesome. Freymiller responded with an “Insanity Wolf” meme captioned, “Can’t find condom. Use candy wrapper instead!”
The most popular meme thus far was created by Ian Nesbitt ’13. The meme, which has received 197 likes to date, uses the “Success Kid” template and contains a caption that reads, “Got to bed before Daily Messages.” Nesbitt didn’t realize how popular his meme had become until days later. “When I checked back, I was surprised,” he said. “But it is true. People actually do try to get to bed before Daily Messages arrive.”
Nesbitt expressed surprise that memes have caught on so quickly at the College. “I thought that memes were mainly enjoyed by a nerdy fan base,” he said. “I know that at Williams we’re all nerdy, but there’s a point at which stuff gets too nerdy.”
However, the page has a broad and varied fan base. Interestingly, Shelton reported that more men than women follow the page (63 percent versus 37 percent). While most fall between the ages of 18 and 22, followers range from their mid-teens to the ripe old age of 38.
“Ideally, I would love to have more fans than there are people at this school,” Shelton said. This goal is lofty but not unachievable, given the enthusiastic response of alumni. “I know alums are looking at it,” Sopher said. “The older ones are like, ‘Why is that animal saying that?’ But the young ones recognize how fun it is.”
So what’s the secret for creating a good meme? Shelton believes that it’s all about relatability. “If I feel like I know exactly what someone’s talking about, then it’s funny,” he said. Memes that capture shared sentiments are often among the most effective.
Freymiller believes that specifity is important, too. Often, the funniest memes refer to specific people or places known only to members of that community. “I love the [“Insanity Wolf”] meme that says, ‘Sees Howard at Lasell Gym. Doesn’t swipe,’” she said. “It’s true! That’s insane! Much love to Howard, but you will get chased down if you try that.” Freymiller also emphasized economy of words and suggested, “Don’t post a link. People will be like ‘Why you make me travel to meme?’”
Overall, meme-ing appears to have positively impacted the College’s community. “There are a lot of things that Williams isn’t that proud of as a community,” Nesbitt said. “But there are some things that are acceptable and healthy to laugh about. It really brings us together.”
Sopher agreed. “I think people are glad at the opportunity to share in the small annoyances at this school and also the small joys,” she said. And according to Shelton, the memes on the College’s Facebook page are slightly nicer than those posted on the pages of peer institutions. “Some of the memes at other schools seem to be making fun of specific people or groups,” Shelton said. “Ours are more general, funny occurrences.”
But how long will it be before the meme-ing craze burns out? “I give it a week or two,” Shelton said. “People are going to start running out of ideas.”
Freymiller believes that the page will remain popular “until it becomes oversaturated with bad memes.” But for her, posting on the College’s page has become passé. “Personally, I’m done,” she said, adding that she feels her time meme-ing was well spent. “I might just troll Amherst’s memes now.”