True admission to a campus community is not through a college’s admissions letter but its group chat. Through these chats, my peers have not only taught me how to register for admitted student activities but to giggle at “wot in tarnation” cowboy hats and the “Guy Tries to Impress Girl” faux pas, neither of which I had seen before. It seemed silly at first, how seriously one another took their 50-cent jokes when we were all trying decided if we liked each other and this university enough to drop more than our lives’ worth on it.
While memes as we know them are grainy photos of face-plants, academics have defined memes, in their simplest sense, as ideas or behaviors spread through a culture. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins argued that memes were the cultural equivalent of a gene – for just as genes build an organism, memes build a culture.
That never clicked for me until a group of college freshmen asked me to introduce myself with a meme, and certain Class of 2021 Facebook groups mirrored the “columbia buy sell memes” page. It was 500 plus 18-year-olds – all clueless beyond belief – linked together with a wifi connection, and there in our commiseration lay the power of the meme. Not your run-of-the-mill Internet tomfoolery, though some memes I admit were quite foolish, the memes bridged the gaps between schools, public or private, between states, coastal or Midwestern, to unite all of us in our shared high school experience.
How else are we supposed to pack our bags, ship away from our parents, and start paying our own rent for the first time in our lives, if not with a laugh? Our ability to step back from our present situations and consign it to a photo at which we can laugh and discard so much more easily than our stress is what makes the meme so attractive. It’s why what I see first in a Facebook introduction is not a name or a country – it’s the Kermit the Frog “Me to Inner Me” meme.
Even so, the notifications piling up on my screen from meme accounts made me hesitant to post my own. I am, after all, that girl, the one who until two weeks ago did not know what place a cowboy hat had on a bottle of water. Yet after joining these groups, and meeting these students, I have just as much of a desire to join this student culture as I do a university itself. My college education, therefore, will begin in learning about my peers – it will begin in memes.