Do memes distract from or highlight the issues students experience?MEMEBRIDGE

In 1573, the University of Cambridge adopted the coat of arms with which we are familiar today. Its motto reads: Hinc Lucem et Pocula Sacra. In 2016, four images of Pepe the Frog were pasted over the crest’s four lions and the motto was revised to: Hinc Lucem et Dank Memes Sacra. Memebridge was born.

In the mere two months of its existence, Memebridge has accrued nearly 10,000 likes. By this point, you’ve probably clicked on this article only because of the impulse reaction on seeing the word Memebridge. For the uninitiated – those who have been walking round with a paper bag over their head for the last term – Memebridge is a page of memes which riff off the stereotypes and reality of Cambridge life: supervisions, Cindies, and clinical depression are among its recurring themes.

Memebridge has used humour to pop the famed ‘Cambridge bubble’. It is part of a trend to which last year’s invention of The Porter’s Log is linked. This online culture often satirises and criticises the seemingly inevitable loneliness and anxiety experienced by Cambridge students, in the face of apparently uncaring supervisors and unrewarding academic work. It offers humorous commentary on issues of classism and racism within the University. Has Memebridge become, then, the new student voice?

Does tagging a Facebook friend in a meme about stress break down barriers or trivialise issues?MEMEBRIDGE

It seems Memebridge is suggestive of a larger state of dissatisfaction, in which we find ourselves disassociated from the very institution to which we are supposed to belong and by which we are apparently represented. Often consisting of the simplest images and text, it seems unlikely to some that this Facebook page could do a better job of expressing the Cambridge zeitgeist than CUSU. Memebridge’s anonymous founder, speaking exclusively to Varsity, explained that the page was created, in part, because of a feeling that there was a lot of wasted comic potential in Cambridge. They had a generous desire to make “something that would really make people feel like they belong somewhere a bit more,” they told me, before adding, “Cambridge is lacking that a bit.”

“I thought it would just be a niche thing for me to post to a few hundred people some funny things, but when I lost creativity for a week or so I asked people to send their own ones in, and since then it’s always had submissions. I was overwhelmed by the amount of people who really got involved with it.” Overwhelmed and, indeed, surprised: “I expected it to be just me.”

“It goes almost without saying that Memebridge shows the darker side to student life, and this is not a characteristic we should brush over lightly”

With up to 20 submissions per day, it does certainly seem that Memebridge has struck Facebook-gold. Other universities too, it would appear, have begun to follow suit. In early November, a screenshot showed the Tab Aberdeen appearing to plagiarise a Memebridge submission. The raging scandal of content theft seemed to lay low for a while, until the appearance of Oxmeme at the end of the month sparked mass outrage as the Oxford-based rival meme page was accused by Memebridge of “STEALING ALL OUR MEMES AND CHANGING THEM SLIGHTLY THE DICKHEADS”. Typically, shortly afterwards, Durhameme arrived on the scene, followed by the Memeing Spires of Oxford, and the real inter-meme spat began.

Yet despite the impassioned use of caps lock and expletives on the page, the Memebridge creator is unperturbed by the apparent threat: “In a way it’s beautiful to see everyone get involved like that, some of the other uni pages are really fucking funny. At the same time though ours is clearly much fucking funnier than the rest.”

And so a new Varsity match was bornThe Memeing Spires of Oxford

It goes almost without saying that Memebridge shows the darker side to student life, and this is not a characteristic we should brush over lightly. Entertaining as the apparent outbreak of World War Meme may be, however, we should be keeping an eye on Memebridge for purposes other than procrastination. Potential applicants to the University, looking at the Memebridge page, will notice that in the transition from being a big fish in a little pond to a little fish in a big pond, a lot of us just feel like we’re drowning.

“They’re more than that, they are the form of expression of our generation,” the pages founder tells me. “What’s so great about them is that they allow literally anyone to be the creators as well as the consumers of culture. Breaking down that barrier is part of the reason they’re so successful.”

If memes are speaking on our behalf, it certainly seems that the world has pricked up its ears to listen. In a recent Guardian article, entitled ‘Of Muppets and millenials’, Rachel Aroesti suggests that the popular evil-Kermit format “speaks for a generation”, in the same month as the publication also included an article by Tim Dowling, which referred to Joe Biden as “the US’s meme-in-chief”.

Students have a medium to discuss serious topics through humour with MemebridgeMEMEBRIDGE

However, as we so-called millenials entrench ourselves in increasing layers of irony and nihilism, we come to expect themes of depression, loneliness and anxiety to appear across our news feeds. It seems that the only way Memebridge could be radical now is by posting a meme in which we’re all happy.

The founder of the page argues that the memes have a consolatory and restorative potential. “There’s a lot of serious shit Memebridge points out in its humour that I feel like is important,” they tell me. “It’s nice for people to know that depression and anxiety is something that a lot of people go through at this place and they’re not alone.”

While some may argue that memes trivialise important issues, the real risk is simply that they desensitise us. As things get worse, memes get better, and tagging a Facebook friend in a meme about sadness seems easier than actually discussing how we feel with the people around us.