The Harbinger Online

Negative Effects of Memes

As a generic high school student, I’m always looking for signs that I am not the only unmotivated teen out there. And the comfort that I’m not comes from a relatable meme detailing the clear choice between ramming your head into a brick wall versus completing a math assignment.

And even though I “vowed” with my No. 2 pencil to never share PSAT questions and answers to anyone following the test, I couldn’t physically restrict myself from retweeting the meme about the teacher who accidentally printed 3,500 brochures all at once.

But with the rise of “meme culture” in our society comes the ridicule of topics that were once very sensitive to the public eye. Though crass humor has been around since the times of Lenny Bruce in the mid-19th century, memes circa-2011 were under more of a light-hearted category. But now, they have been replaced with quips involving topics relating to suicide, fat shaming and depression — just to name a few.

The term meme is best defined by Wikipedia: a humorous image, video, piece or text that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users. And the ever-so-reliable source of Urban Dictionary refers it as “not a word, but a lifestyle.” Memes are the current day platform of how one portrays cultural events, while simultaneously applying their own humor or twist to the information that might not be seen as near politically correct.

While Google may have its definition, I still have mine. Memes are, or at least used to be, an outlet of creativity. They are a place where nothing except how mindless the content is can be judged, and at one point, I had fallen in love.

After my fine four to five years in the meme-perusing industry on Twitter, Instagram and now even Snapchat, I’ve found that I have gradually lost this love connection. The infamous hooded Kermit who talks to himself no longer speaks to me — all due to the fact that they’re becoming next-level-insensitive.

Though many might get a laugh out of these kinds of tweets while they’re looking for a reason to procrastinate on that long-term English assignment — yes I fall victim to this — the reason behind this laugh is a bi-product of joking about suicide, death and other serious topics — all which have been completely normalized by today’s society.

One would think it impossible to make a joke about unsettling events like the Orlando shooting in 2016 or put a spin on #PrayforParis following the 2015 attacks, but don’t worry, Twitter somehow has you covered!

Considering some meme accounts on the Internet, why was I even surprised people could make light of terrorism? For God’s sake, there’s a private meme site straight up called “I want to die” that originated in 2016 and is viewed and posted on by top “memers” including @wearellmemes and @GothShakira.

I can’t even remember the last time I scrolled through Twitter and didn’t see a meme about death. Just yesterday, I saw a meme comparing a study about how high volumes of music can lead to death and a picture of someone blasting music as loud as possible.

Yes, I laugh. Yes, I “relate.” But do I really relate?

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According to my Twitter likes, I do. But my real mental state doesn’t quite match up with my personal Twitter profile.

Society has started to lose their appeal to the sensitive side of things. Empathy has practically disappeared on social media, leading to less empathy off the screen. It’s now solely about who can take a statistic about school shootings and try to make middle schoolers laugh at it.

The way meme culture affects the way one views a social problem, in my experience, is like how a third grader chooses his political views. They solely base it off of the conversation they grow up hearing at home between their parents — that’s all they know.

Even from the origin of quality memes, around 2011, articles popped up all over the internet warning that using memes as a platform for glorifying social problems would have detrimental effects on people’s’ psychological makeup.

Psychologist Paul Thagard explains in a web article in 2013 that memes are not a good way to express extreme thoughts on a cultural situation. This is because they “lump cultural entities together as memes and neglect the variety and complexity of mental representations.”

Memes make up your mind for you. Instead of reading a news article about the details of a 130 mph hurricane whipping through and wreaking havoc on the Southern U.S., I usually first hear about these things through a twisted graphic of the incident with a caption trying so hard to relate to teen problems. The headline “Hurricane Harvey Death toll Rises” is replaced with “That moment when your mom yells at you for not cleaning your room.”

And it only gets more personal. Someone battling with depression and suicidal thoughts might come across a joke about wanting to vertically slit your wrists after watching disturbing couples PDA in the hallway. Chances are the memer behind the keyboard isn’t aware of the implications behind statements like that.

Not only does this make the person feel like society as a whole has no respect for their problems, but it normalizes the fact that suicide and depression is just a “thing,” instead of a disease that should receive support.

These virtual, desensitized forms of media have made suicide norm and mass shootings are they eye of public ridicule.

Though your mom always might say to “look at the bright side of every situation,” in our world today, that side of the story isn’t always there — and one shouldn’t be artificially made up for it either.

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Author Spotlight

Meg Thoma

Meg Thoma is a senior and on her fourth year on staff. She is a copy editor, A&E Print section editor, writer and designer. Along with staff, she is also involved tennis, SHARE and swimming. »

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