U of T meme groups on social media have become incredibly popular outlets for those who want to laugh and relax in an otherwise academically challenging university environment. Students make memes about a variety of U of T topics on a daily basis, whether it be the architecture of Robarts Library or biting satire that criticizes unpopular decisions made by the administration.
Moreover, memes might just be the solution for the alienation that students often feel at such a large campus, bringing us together as a community that actively engages with university affairs. Indeed, it seems that every time something noteworthy occurs on campus, memes about it are sure to follow.
To learn more about the impact of these groups on student life, I spoke to some of the admins of one of U of T’s most popular Facebook meme groups, UofT memes for true 🅱lue teens. The group now has over 13,000 members and provides a constant stream of original content from U of T students. This popularity is likely due to some of the different events the group has hosted, the first of which was the the true 🅱lue bracket, which pitted colleges and faculties against each other through a democratic student vote. This popularity is likely to continue with plans for a library bracket in place.
On the college ranking bracket, admin Arjun Kaul notes that “it brought the campus together in a very… low stakes environment.” More than 7,000 people from all colleges voted in some of the most heated rounds. There were more votes in some rounds of the meme bracket than in some categories of the University of Toronto Students’ Union election last year.
While it did pit colleges and faculties against each other, the group’s admins do not think there was any real animosity. Admin Padraic Berting describes the bracket as a way for “both people who really liked frosh and people who didn’t really care about frosh to all get unified in [an] event and have some type of… collegiate battling fun.” The goal of the bracket was to get students involved and to enjoy themselves, and it was quite successful in doing so.
One topic on the minds of all the admins was U of T President Meric Gertler’s ill-advised decision not to divest the university’s investments from fossil fuel industries. This has become a popular meme in the group and highlights how members use comedy to communicate important messages. “We like that it amplifies the signal of certain things that wouldn’t be received,” says Kaul. “I don’t think many people would know that we haven’t divested yet if not for memes.”
That amplification seems to be working. Issues like U of T’s mental health services or apparent callousness toward student safety during extreme weather are brought to the forefront of student discourse through memes. Admin Tristan Bannerman explains that “if people use the group to make a fun meme about how we need to divest… or how U of T admin is saying wack shit constantly, if we make fun of that, that’s fun. And that’s good.” With such a large audience, true 🅱lue memes has become a place of student discourse and deliberation about important issues. To many, true 🅱lue is a source of U of T news, with weather alert and building closure memes often informing students of issues faster than U of T itself.
The admins believe that memes are not going anywhere because there is just so much content to be made. They credit that to the versatility of the medium and how almost anything can be made into a meme. Moderator Shervin Shojaei notes, “Any template can be used, any form of humour.” That seems to be the beauty of memes and the key to their popularity. There is no limit to potential content, and no matter what, you will be able to find a group that fits your interests.
Memes are often looked at as simple jokes that people enjoy in their day-to-day lives. But if this year at U of T has proven anything, the creation and sharing of memes can be much more than just a laugh that amuses viewers. It can help to form a community and spread important commentary. If I learned anything from talking to the admins of this group, it is that there is a lot of potential for good in these snippets of internet humour, and I am excited to see where things go next.
Archie Burton Smith is a second-year Cinema Studies student at Victoria College.