By Rose Payne
The phenomenon of memeing, in its current form, popped up fairly recently. Previously having only existed in the reserve of niche internet subcultures, now they have well and truly entered the mainstream. Even if I wanted to avoid them now, it seems unlikely that I could, my newsfeed is swamped. While some memes are hilarious and wholesome, others can be upsetting or triggering. Like many new technological phenomena, it seems unclear at the moment whether memes are a force for good or bad, or nothing at all. But while individual memes may come and go, as a phenomenon, they seem set to stay.
Of course it’s wrong to group all memes into one homogeneous mass – like all art, memes are to some extent a function of the views of their creators. They represent all positions on the political spectrum, and range from the mundane to the surreal. This huge range is probably part of what makes memes so popular, but also makes it difficult to characterise their effect.
There is something immensely reassuring about knowing that other people are feeling the same way you do. I think that most people will be familiar with the relief that comes with finding out that someone else hates the same person/thing that I do. These realisations make you feel less alone; it’s a great source of validation. This validation is a big part of the appeal of memes.
The massive popularity of pages like Memebridge, and its increasingly specific offshoots, is a clear sign of this need. Some of the most common memes on the page are related to feeling overwhelmed, anxious or depressed. This acceptance and validation of not feeling great all the time is essential in a place like Cambridge.
Often it can feel like you’re the only one struggling, desperately treading water to try and stay on top of workload, extra curriculars and having an active social life, while everyone else continues to overachieve massively and effortlessly. The assumption can be that because no one else is really talking about mental health, or that they’re struggling, they must be doing fine. But Memebridge blows these assumptions wide open. Everyone you know, regardless of how well you think they might be doing, likes these memes; the guy you think does no work but still seems to get a first effortlessly every year, that ridiculously multi-talented BNOC, the person who manages to go out every night and still get up for their 10am.
But no one is perfect, and uni is a difficult time for most people. Memes provide a way to start a dialogue about mental health without the scariness of having to announce your personal circumstances to the world.
That is not to say that the experiences of all meme-likers are the same. It’s important to stress that mental health problems are serious, and that it’s important not just to accept how you’re feeling, but also to seek help. A potential problem with memes is the passivity they encourage, terrible mental health should not just be accepted. The fact that lots of people experience mental health problems does not mean that your individual struggle is any less serious or valid. While Cambridge can make it feel like it’s normal to suffer from mental health problems, that’s only because it’s such a stressful environment, often with poor pastoral support.
I suppose the message here is that while memes can make you feel less alone, and provide a positive sense of community, it doesn’t mean that your problems should just be accepted. So tag your friend in that meme, embrace the solidarity, but also make sure you both can get the help and support that you need.