Whenever I’m back home on vacation, my mum constantly chides me on my “peculiar” habit of scrolling through my Instagram feed every morning like it’s The Times. Meme culture is often brushed off as a ‘millennial’ thing, self-absorbed and inconsequential. For who, but a bunch of teenagers would indulge in an hour of looking at cat memes when there is a colossal refugee crisis on the streets of Paris and turbulent domestic political situations regarding the future of our country.
Trivial though it does sound to someone not subscribed to it, there is much more to meme culture than meets the surface. Millennials are a troubled generation. They are caught between an educational and media experience that teaches us to question and a world that is still not ready for it. We find ourselves in a liminal space populated with tumultuous familial relationships and forced adherence to customs and traditions that we perceive as archaic. Add to that an increasingly competitive job market in a world fraught with political uncertainty and the hard-pressing realities of automation and climate change.
The millennial obsession with portrayal doesn’t help either, with everyone suppressing their anxieties and insecurities in order to ‘design’ a social media persona with a perfect life
Ironically, it’s not like relationships are getting easier to manage in this age of communication either. The advent of online dating and everything that comes along with it including non-exclusivity and ‘catfishing’. The millennial obsession with portrayal doesn’t help either, with everyone suppressing their anxieties and insecurities in order to ‘design’ a social media persona with a perfect life. This will be complete with feeds full of gorgeous outfit-of-the-days, makeup on fleek, trendy Manhattan cafes we visited, and European streets we holidayed in. Nobody wants to admit that there are bad days along with the good ones, that university can sometimes feel incredibly lonely (especially in the winter months), and that the makeup was borrowed from a friend because they were broke.
For a generation that is uncomfortable with awkwardness and emotional depth, this is the best method of coping
Memes are more than a superficial pastime, or even a cultural obsession: they are a respite. In a time where it often feels incredibly difficult to approach someone in order to vent about our struggles, it is easy to fall prey to the misconception that ‘you are the only one’. Memes offer a liberation from that unsettling feeling as a result of their goosebumps-inducing relatability. Moreover, you can feel belonging and acceptance without even having to talk about your struggles. Thus, there is a comforting Harry Potter-esque ‘Invisibility Cloak’ that accompanies meme culture. You see one on your feed, you relate and feel relieved that it’s just not you, and you move on. You do not have to spend time, effort or emotions in opening up to somebody. For a generation that is uncomfortable with awkwardness and emotional depth, this is the best method of coping.
To sum up, let us have our memes. No, we are not self-absorbed procrastinators. This is the way we deal.