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The inevitable encroachment of normie memes

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In the fleeting moments in between classes or procrastinating before starting that seven page paper due tomorrow, college students across the country often turn to their institution’s Facebook meme pages for entertainment. At Swarthmore, it seems as if the source of happiness has taken an unfortunately normie turn.

The college’s main meme page, Swarthmore Memes for Quaker Teens, often includes Swarthmore-related posts, such as the sad selection of Sharples’ breakfast and the lofty promises of the administration. Other popular posts cover current topics issues like the Korean treaty and Kanye West’s endorsement of Donald Trump.

In the past few weeks, however, students have complained that the content of such posts has become less original and more general, or “normie.” Josh Geselowitz ’21 explained that specificity most often produces better memes, and SM4QT’s niche is the college.

“I prefer the Swarthmore-related memes because other meme pages have better non-school related memes,” he said. “Either because they also have a specific topic or because they’re larger and therefore will likely have better content.”

Alessandro Getzel ’21 called for an end to normie memes at Swarthmore.

“I think memes that are actually about Swat are always the most successful on the meme page,” he said. “I get tired of seeing the same memes getting reposted from ‘sassy socialist memes’ or ‘college student problems.’ I mostly just want spicy, original content.”

In its current form, SM4QT includes almost 1,800 members, a group type of “family,” and location of Hell, Michigan. Any Swarthmore student can gain access, and many opt to stay in after graduation. The most popular posts garner over 200 reactions; the average post receives around 30.

According to USA Today College, the college meme-craze began in 2015—also around the time that Erin Jenson ’17 created the first campus-wide Swarthmore meme page, SM4QT moderator Dakota Gibbs ’18 reported. However, an unfortunate lack of moderation led to too many offensive posts, which propelled Kat Galvis Rodriguez ’17 to create SM4QT around a year later.

New guidelines were put in place to avoid the old drama and to bring in a new sense of inclusion amongst the Swarthmore meme community, Gibbs said. Now, one admin, Amorina Pearce ’19, and four moderators—Gibbs, Faith Booker ’21, Matthew Chen ’17, and Harsha Sen ’19—approve all posts before memes can become public. The group rarely rejects memes, but occasionally will veto one if it contains racist, classist, queerphobic, transphobic, sexist or otherwise discriminatory undertones.

In June, USA Today reported that students flock to college-centric meme pages—a subset of larger online forums like Reddit—to express sarcastic and bitter feelings about college. The pages serve as relatable outlets for such tension created especially by higher learning institutions.

Gibbs added that Swat-specific memes, which range from wholesome to political, serve a vital purpose in any Swattie’s life.

“[These memes] allow people to vent and express issues in a low pressure format and be a part of community,” he said. “Memes makes things very relatable and humorous in a way that is easily consumed in today’s internet culture.”

Booker said that memes serve a variety of functions on campus.

“Comic relief because we’re all stressed, procrastination when we don’t want to be working zombies, and a way to comment on and share frustration with administration, student culture, and other problems on campus,” she said. “It’s also a way to share your happiness and things you think are funny with other people.”

However, several students question how far the college meme culture can go without turning ugly. One student expressed discomfort with how many graphically sexual memes are featured on the group. Another suggested that in the comments of a meme is not the best platform to host debates.

Separately, Grace Taylor ’21 explained that she does not understand many memes on the main group page and called for more transparency from meme posters.

In response to the recent upsurge of normie content, Swarthmore shitposting—an offshoot of the all-inclusive meme page—sprouted about a year ago. The group includes about 350 Swarthmore students, all of whose entrance was approved by three administrators.

Pearce said SM4QT is an outlet for students to share more generic memes with a large group, while Swarthmore shitposting hosts more niche, often weird content for a selective group.

“People want a space to post weird stuff without feeling like 1,763 people are looking at it like ‘WTF,’” she said. “The group is very protective of its weirdness.”

Swarthmore shitposting moderator Nora Shao ’19 said the group was intended for a specific kind of humor and performance.

“Swarthmore Shitposting was originally a place for a cultivated, very strict competitive performance … Normie strikes were originally a mechanism for maintaining that performance while also being a part of that performance,” she said.

Last month, a student received pushback for posting a meme dubbed too normie to be allowed in such a group. The student’s expulsion from the page was debated, as was whether or not the group should “zucc,” or delete, themselves for becoming too large. (The term originates from the idea that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg can delete Facebook pages on a whim.)

Pearce said the term “normie” can be either ironic or elitist depending on the context. Lately, she said, calling out such content has turned into the latter, which has intimidated new members.

“If there’s a question about whether it’s normie or not, I would say to post it in SM4QT. Save the really weird shit for shitposting,” she said. “Swarthmore shitposting uses the term to set a boundary between what should be posted in the main meme page and what should go in shitposting.”

Two weeks ago on SM4QT, an incoming freshman posted a photo that pictured a rattled-looking Jim from The Office with the caption: “mood when you were admitted early decision and the meme group is full of memes about not liking swat.” The meme received 270 reactions.

Current Swarthmore students and alumni swarmed the comments of the incoming freshman’s post in SM4QT to reaffirm that they made the right college decision. They emphasized the constant roasting of the college on the meme page is, mostly, in good fun.

Courtney Caolo ’21 commented with a Harry Potter meme captioned, “…you’re gonna suffer but you’re gonna be happy about it.” Tom McGovern ’17 said attending Swarthmore was the best thing that’s ever happened to him and offered to chat about any concerns the student might have.

“Truth is, the griping doesn’t necessarily mean there’s any place we’d rather have ended up,” Gabriel Meyer-Lee ’19 commented, which received 41 reactions. “We criticize admin not necessarily bc they’re worse than other schools but because we want to be better.”

While the meme culture at Swarthmore might be headed in a normie direction, Swat memes still serve to unite the community in a unique way. They still reflect real frustrations seen on campus, such as the uphill battle of o4S and the Sabra hummus ban—and even provide comic relief in between classes. Just keep the content original.

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