To Meme or Not to Meme

我们通过发表论文来表彰学生编辑大赛的前 11 名获奖者。这是Kate-Yeonjae Jeong,17岁的。


这篇文章由来自休斯顿金德表演和视觉艺术高中的 17 岁的 Kate-Yeonjae Jeong 撰写,是学习网络第九届年度学生社论的前 11 名获奖者之一,我们收到了 16,664 份参赛作品。

To Meme or Not to Meme

Sometime in late February, I go about my usual routine: homework, short respite on TikTok, repeat. As I mindlessly swipe past dance trends and makeup tutorials, the unexpected catches my eye: shaky footage showing solemn soldiers marching, weapons drawn.

Immediately, I open the comment section to find users just as dumbstruck as I am. One proclaims, “I can’t believe I found out about a war on this app,” and thousands “like” the comment in agreement.

With that, most teenagers, including myself, first became aware of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on the social media platform TikTok.

For today’s adolescents, consuming news via social media is second nature; memes, in particular, are used to keep up with ever-evolving world affairs. With fast-paced production, easy-to-understand lingo, and laugh-out-loud humor, memes have connected an entire generation through a common language.

However, criticisms have arisen, claiming memes trivialize serious subjects. The Russia-Ukraine war has been no exception, with jokes being shared about World War III drafts and how Marvel’s Avengers would react in such a scenario. In the spur of online frenzy, memes have homogenized real-life tragedies with humor.

Social media has led to a point where “the trivial follows the dire, the personal appears alongside the public,” according to Hayley Phelan in a guest essay for The New York Times. “War starts to blend with entertainment.”

This, in turn, begs the question: Can crises be memed?

The majority of meme content has been fueled by teenagers whose coming-of-age has been accompanied by generation-defining events. As the digital media strategist Joshua Chapdelaine said in an article for Teen Vogue, memes create the “perfect vessels for high-anxiety moments when words may be difficult to find.” Processing emotions through unprecedented times can be complex, but memes alleviate that difficulty through their ability to transcend emotional boundaries.

Moreover, memes allow teenagers to openly participate in discussions regarding political and social developments. With their less intimidating nature, memes ease the process in which opinions are shared and formed. “As the memes and their narratives travel and spread, they help shape the larger cultural narrative … just as all memes, from toxic to wholesome, help create cultural narratives,” writes Aja Romano in Vox. Accessible by anyone, memes serve as the youth’s entry into becoming well-informed citizens. At a time of undeniably high sociopolitical tension, it is crucial that youth are aware of global issues; memes facilitate exactly that.

Despite seemingly lacking sophistication, memes are effectively raising awareness for a teenage audience. Just as the generation before had political cartoons, today’s youth have memes to engage in political discourse. Through this revolutionary method of communication, memes are shaping the way teens interact with the world.

Works Cited

Colombo, Charlotte. “Westerners, Please Stop With the Memes and Hot Takes on the Ukraine Crisis.” HuffPost, 7 March 2022.

Colombo, Charlotte. “Memes and War: Why People Turn to Jokes During Times of Crisis.” Teen Vogue, 3 March 2022.

Phelan, Hayley. “Elon Musk, Vladimir Putin and the Insidious Meme-Ification of War.” The New York Times, 26 March 2022.

Romano, Aja. “Reckoning With the War Meme in Wartime.” Vox, 25 Feb. 2022.