Welcome to my new column, where in each instalment I will rant about something that annoys me. Given that pretty much 90% of the readership of qmunicate has probably been procrastinating as if it was a national sport (especially during reading week), this time, I will be expressing my love/hate relationship with the recent phenomenon of the GU Memes page.
Popular as it is, I have still been asked by many people: ‘What is a meme?’. Given that I myself am composed of equal parts Alcohol, Hair, and Internet, I am usually the go-to member of my group of friends to explain a certain meme. So, here goes (some of what follows will probably need a glossary, but I’m not going to write it).
Memes are by no means a new thing. Coined by the author of ‘The God Delusion’, Richard Dawkins, the term ‘meme’ has been around for over 35 years. The term, in the most basic of definitions, is a sort of analogy to a gene (with which it rhymes). Whereas genes transmit biological data from generation to generation, memes transmit social or cultural ideas from person to person.
In years before the Internet, a meme could have been something as simple as a national anthem, or a poem or traditional folk song, which would transmit the idea of what it is to be, say, Scottish, from one generation to the next. Since the dawn of the internet, and the rise of message boards such as 4chan and Reddit, the meme has changed into something else. While still being used to transmit ideas, the form they mostly take nowadays is that of what can be described best as a ‘joke in picture form, with a caption’.
Most prevalent among these pictures are photos of people or animals (covered by the blanket term, Advice Animals). Examples include Foul Bachelor Frog, or Success Kid (seriously, just Google them). Memes can also, however, be simply viral videos such as Trololo Guy, or Nyan Cat, which you’ve probably all seen. Most famous however, is the RickRoll, whereby someone is tricked into clicking a link which, unbeknownst to the clicker, leads to a YouTube video of Rick Astley’s most supreme song, Never Gonna Give You Up. So famous is this concept that, on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade of 2008, Rick Astley himself emerged from a float to blast out the song to the unsuspecting public – thereby RickRolling the whole world in person.
Now, onto GU Memes. Coming into existence sometime around the beginning of February, the GU Memes page did not have many fans on Facebook when I liked it. Not to be an Internet hipster about it, but I only had 2 mutual friends with it on the 4th of February. Within days, it had exploded. Currently, we have 95 mutual friends, and it now has over 5500 followers. My immediate thought upon seeing it was that it ‘Needs more Stuart Ritchie’. This was of course a reference to the memes created last year of the deposed former SRC president, with captions like ‘Student fees raised? iPad nothing to do with this!’, and ‘I wanted fees to be OVER 9000!!!’. So, as you can see, memes are not a new thing, even to the student bodies of Glasgow University.
The next day, a few more memes had been uploaded, and it had a few hundred more followers. Come Monday, however, and it was everywhere. My News Feed was flooded! Not only was I being notified when a friend posted on their wall, I was being notified when a certain number of friends commented on one of the group’s photos! So for a while, my News Feed AND my Top Stories were GU Memes related.
‘X liked GU Memes.’
‘X liked GU Memes’s photo.’
‘X and Y commented on Z’s photo on GU Memes’s wall’
‘X liked Y’s photo on GU Memes’s wall.’
‘X posted GU Meme’s photo on Y’s wall.’
‘X, Y, Z and 20 bajillion other friends liked GU Memes’s photo’
The worst part of this was, most people did not totally understand the concept of what a meme was, yet still uploaded to the group. So for a while, my Facebook was flooded with memes which were either unfunny, irrelevant, or just stupid.
I was not the only one fed up by this.
After a wonderful session at the B.W.N.P.Q., spending many hours devoid of mobile coverage in my second home that is the QMU, I came back home to discover that shit had gone down. The mania surrounding GU Memes’s page had gone from one of adoration, to one of repulsion. Wanting to discover the source of this Internet drama, and the cause of the flotilla of Waaambulances heading towards Facebook, I found out that people had invaded the page, and uploaded a barrage of Gore porn for all followers to see. Given that the sole admin, whoever he or she may be, was AwayFromKeyboard, these horrifying images had been left unchecked, mentally scarring all who looked upon them.
Of course, seeing as I spent the majority of my later teen years on Encyclopaedia Dramatica (DO NOT visit this site if easily offended – YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED), I had seen these before and knew that, while still nasty to look upon, they were probably Photoshopped, and designed specifically to get people worked up.
So why did this happen? Further investigation revealed that there was a thread on 4chan specifically mentioning the GU Memes page. 4chan, probably the birthplace of the Internet meme, is a message board consisting mostly of users who have no account – thereby marking all their posts as Anonymous (yes, THAT Anonymous). It seems likely that 4chan users were angry that their private in-joke was being used on Facebook, and so declared war. But there’s no real point in placing blame. The problem with Anonymous is exactly that, they are anonymous.
The page’s wall faced a deluge of posts: ‘I’m calling the Police!!!’; ‘I’m unliking this page’; ‘OMG I feel sick’ ‘Here’s a pic of Johnny Depp holding a puppy to make you feel better!’ and so on and so forth. Eventually, the admin came back, and deleted the posts. Crisis averted? Not really.
The fact remained that this page was still overloading News Feeds galore. To add to this, the trend was spreading nationwide, and now I was facing an onslaught of memes from not just MY University but also from the Universities of my friends and family (though I’m not sure those groups were a target of Anonymous). Sure, I could just unlike the page, but there was a few gems in there that I could miss, and besides, the fact that most of my Glasgow friends still liked the page meant I’d still get them appearing on my screen regardless.
Seeing that my cousin (also at Uni somewhere in England) had posted a pic from HIS Uni’s meme page, I thought I’d show him ours. After posting the link, I discovered that the wall was filled with fan-made furry porn images of the show ‘My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic’. ‘WHAT HAVE THEY DONE?!’, I cried, ‘IS NOTHING SACRED?’. I, and many other Bronies, I’m sure, died a little. I wept for all of a millisecond, and uttered a silent prayer to Princess Celestia.
While GU Memes itself seems to have died down a little, the whole Uni meme thing is spreading still. Glasgow Nightclub Memes started up a few days ago (‘One does not simply find their way around Club 520’ on M.C. Escher’s ‘Relativiteit’ has to be my favourite), and it seems to be growing slightly, though not at the pace GU Memes did.
So who decided it was a good idea to upload the porn? Was it 4chan and its legions of Anonymous who got all butthurt that the meme was being abused, and decided that ‘In Soviet Russia, memes abuse YOU!’? Or was it trolls who were just bored? Or was it just a group of Facebook users who were sick of the constant onslaught of GU Memes content appearing on their screen? We will probably never know. It will die down soon, but it was still annoying while it lasted.