Q&A: The Man Behind The Meme

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.


Just two weeks after Swatmemes debuted, it’s already boasting some 1,000 Likes. Yet few people know that Alex Ahn ’14 is the man behind the Swatmemes. Ahn started the viral Facebook page in the basement of Cornell Library, on a day when he had a lot of meme ideas and not a lot of motivation to finish his lab report. From speaking with Ahn, it’s clear he loves memes. Still, he says he hopes it’s not too much of an intellectual drain on the community.

How did you decide to make Swatmemes?

I really like memes a lot. I would waste a lot of time just going on Tumblr and other places where you find a lot of these things, and I can across some college meme places. I’m from around Columbia and I know their campus pretty well and I was looking through their meme site and I could see how memes could really invigorate the community, with cultural notions that are specific to each college community. It didn’t really feel like Columbia’s were that personal. I felt like Swat could do a lot better.

When do realize that this was going to be big?

I guess when I checked after 3 hours and I had gotten like 200 likes. I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve directly had access to a thousand some people almost instantaneously. I think there have been a couple glitches, but I’m working through that.

Can you talk about those glitches. You posted a couple statuses reminding users to be respectful in their memes.

A lot of these meme sites get four channel texts basically from people who are not so pleased with how many bad memes there are on college meme pages. Sometimes you’ll get people pretending to be Swarthmore students and they’ll post things that are not so appropriate, but we’ve had just one such incident. There have been some college meme sites that have had to shut down because of the constant attacks, but we haven’t had any yet.

What do you like about memes?

It’s this really simple way to communicate that really gets at the message or the emotion, and pictures speak a thousand words and you can say so much and get an idea across so much more quickly than in other type of communication.

Do memes serve a purpose?

Memes are bits of cultural ideas, and because people disagree on these cultural ideas, I’ve had cases where memes that I thought were really obvious incited a really lively discussion on if the message it was trying to convey was actually right or justified. I think it can be useful in terms of making you think about what really is “obvious.” There was a meme about Ville Rats and I was having a conversation with a friend about where we were justified or whether we’re helping what that person saw as the disparity between Swarthmore’s general principles of social justice and fairness and then having this pejorative term against a group of people. So there are cases like these that make you think about things you haven’t really thought about.

Have you had to do much moderating of the memes on the page?

I try to do as little as possible. For the most part I haven’t had to do much moderating. I don’t think there are any memes up there that is not, even if you’re not in on the joke, generally appreciable. I think it’s really nice that people have taken this to a standard of social respect that you see in the community. The Internet is not exactly the most welcoming of places, so it’s nice to have a space where jokes are genuine and well-meaning.

Or well-memeing. What’s your favorite meme on the site?

Oh, that’s hard. Someone posted, it was the most interesting man in the world poster, and half of it was cut off and top text was something like, I don’t always connect to SwatNet. I actually didn’t realize it and had to refresh the page a couple times. That got me pretty good.

What do you hope Swatmemes will do for the community?

Being a student at Swarthmore can be really difficult on a lot of levels,  academic and personal and otherwise, and I hope that, and it seems to be the case, this provides a little break, just releasing a bit of tension if you’re frustrated about something or enjoying to camaraderie because It provides a space for that. I think that’s what I’m most happy about.

Meme created by Alex Ahn ’14 for The Daily Gazette.


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    Alex So says:

    It’s cool how the newer sites like Meme Creator are letting you upload your own memes. Cuz now you can be the real creator of a meme that might go viral.. Or make your own custom campus memes.. It’s addicting stuff.

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