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The 🅱️oundless value of U of T memes

How a Facebook group fosters community and satire for thousands of students

The 🅱️oundless value of U of T memes

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.

Is lit culture dead?

Memes killed books and I’m jaded

Is lit culture dead?

The premise of the novel being ‘dead’ first arose during the rise of nihilism: the denial or lack of belief in meaningful aspects of life.

Though many have claimed that this was an exaggeration, with the rise of social media has come an entire generation that has been removed from literary culture. Our most well-known creative outlet is now YouTube.

YouTube is both a blessing and a curse. Watching a world of Californian YouTubers and their lavish lifestyles easily leads down a rabbit hole of random videos about ‘Twitter beef’ or ‘tea’ that apparently needs spilling.

Along with this new cultural phenomenon comes the unfortunate decline of time being spent on ‘traditional’ hobbies. What I am referring to is the kind of thing that your parents would say if they saw you binging Netflix for hours: “When I was your age we had to spend our time doing something offline. Do something else! Go outside, ride a bike, or read a book!”

Literary fiction once dictated popular culture, but with the rise of the digital age, the hunger for new stories has been satisfied by movie adaptations and audio books.

The sponsoring of YouTubers by companies like Audible has greatly increased in popularity. Audio books are considered to be easier to ‘read’; people can experience ‘reading’ a book while doing other tasks at the same time. This has resulted in fewer purchases of hard copies. In turn, many book stores, particularly independents, have had to shut their doors.

Personally, I find that listening to a book does not give you the same feelings as picking up a new book and experiencing that euphoria of ‘new book’ smell does. It truly is a sad moment every time someone tells me that they have not even heard of some of the greatest books of all time, never mind having read them.

Literary culture has dwindled down to sappy Wattpad stories of a girl reading in a café or a park and meeting the boy whom she will later marry. The days of literary puns and classic English literature are long gone. Every so often, a book series will send popular culture into a frenzy, leaving behind a whirlwind of heartbroken teens and fierce fandoms, but for the most part, literary culture is slowly being lowered into its grave.

Even when speaking to friends of mine, many say that they “love the idea of reading” but can’t stay focused on a book long enough to finish it. Honestly, how can I, or any other book lover, blame them? This generation has been trained to be accustomed to the fast pace of social media and its continually growing collection of memes.

All that remains of literary culture is what hipsters have made from romanticizing the idea of reading in a café and having revolutionary ideas. The sad truth is that, in a world in which the novel is so out of sync with a society molded so heavily by meme culture, the idea of someone reading could actually be seen as incredibly intellectual.

Reading is no longer associated with leisure. Novels have now become intertwined with academia and schoolwork. The automatic instinct for many children, teens, and adults is to grab their electronic devices and play games, listen to music, or use social media rather than immerse themselves in a story beyond themselves and the world around them.

Reading is now looked upon as an acquired interest rather than a common hobby. It seems like reading has returned to being a refined art form, and the glory days of being ecstatic when your parents took you to Chapters or the local book store are no more.

The traditional novel is obsolete beside ever-advancing technology. Literary culture, to most people of this era, is dead or dying.

When it comes to naming things, crowd-sourcing isn’t the best idea

Re: “UTM seeking student suggestions for new building name”

When it comes to naming things, crowd-sourcing isn’t the best idea

It seems that members of the U of T administration were left wanting more after the results of the Portal Naming Contest were announced in December 2017. Since one naming contest was not enough, UTM launched another earlier this month, this time for the new north building that is scheduled to open in the summer of 2018.

The contest invited UTM staff, students, and faculty to suggest a name for the new north building between February 12 and February 25. Subsequently, a committee formed by UTM’s staff, students, and faculty will review and recommend three names from these suggestions to Dr. Ulrich Krull, the principal of UTM. Krull will, in turn, pass along one name to be approved by the administration.

Though Susan Senese, UTM’s Interim Chief Administrative Officer, called this contest a “community opportunity,” it is highly likely that the results of this contest will generate frivolous responses rather than serious ones.

Undergraduate students make up the largest portion of UTM’s community, and many of these students share and create memes. Outside of the campus context, the results of numerous naming contests in the recent past have been skewed by meme-wielding internet users.

Mountain Dew’s 2012 Dub the Dew contest to name its soft drink resulted in suggestions ranging from “Fapple” to “Gushing Granny.” A public vote in 2016 to name the new UK Polar Royal Research Ship resulted in 124,109 votes for “Boaty McBoatface.” When the Philadelphia Zoo asked the public to name its newborn baby gorilla in 2016, it was bombarded with suggestions of “Harambe,” the gorilla who was fatally shot by a Cincinnati Zoo worker earlier that year after a three-year-old child climbed into his enclosure, and whose death was subsequently memorialized through memes.

U of T’s new portal name, Quercus, was also subjected to similar mockery by members of a Facebook group devoted to U of T memes, who likened it to “Ridiculus.”

Given that “Building McBuildingFace” and “Glassy Squares Boi” — both names derived from memes — have already been suggested, thanks to the U of T subreddit, I doubt that leaving the name up to the UTM community is the best idea. At this rate, students will be attending classes in the “Ignorant and Hurtful Building.”


Zeahaa Rehman is a third-year student at UTM studying Linguistics and Professional Writing.

What’s in a meme?

U of T meme groups on Facebook offer an accessible vantage point into the student experience

What’s in a meme?

If you’re even slightly active on Facebook, chances are that you’re probably in a meme group of some kind. The most popular meme groups at the University of Toronto are ‘UofT Memes for Edgy Teens,’ which boasts over 13,500 members, and ‘UofT memes for true 🅱️lue teens,’ which has over 3,000 members. These groups have moderators, and although some content may not be approved or kept up for long, the groups are ultimately a free space wherein anyone can post whatever they want.

Merriam-Webster defines a meme as “an amusing or interesting item… spread widely online.” I like to think of memes as inside jokes for the internet, and often as inside jokes for a group of people with shared experiences. In the case of U of T meme groups, that experience is being a student at this university. Although some might question the wisdom of taking these memes too seriously, I think they express student concerns and anxieties better than any other medium.

This is not in spite of the informality of the medium — it’s because of it. As Marshall McLuhan would say, the medium is the message.

McLuhan was talking about how mediums like television, print, or radio would shape the way we think about the world and process information. Yet we can see his insights reflected in memes and internet culture as well. The fact is that memes permit a type of self-expression that is normally unavailable in other forms of discourse. Expressing qualms about the university through a meme is easier than filing a complaint through official channels, and it often garners attention nevertheless. Compulsory respect for public figures when expressing oneself, conversely, is unnecessary, and few if any topics are wholly off limits. All that is required to create a good meme is a sense of humour and a knowledge that the meme will be understood by the community.

In Elizabeth Bruenig’s Washington Post article “Why is Millennial Humor So Weird?,” she discusses how the absurdism of life for millennials, from economic anxiety to uncertainty about the future, has given way to embracement of the bizarre and strange. You can find plenty of especially strange memes in both U of T meme groups. One meme, for instance, explains how to look like a Rotman Commerce student — wearing an expensive but unremarkable suit and tie and purchasing a potato chip to place on your shoulder. Another meme, in rebuttal to a Trinity College student’s denial that the college is “extra,” displays a stained glass window depicting an angel holding a photo of the college in its hands.

To an outsider, these memes might seem nonsensical, yet they manage to convey the anxieties and oddities that are unique to U of T life — in this case, those anxieties and oddities that are unique to certain programs and colleges. Similarly, other memes in the groups focus on other commonplace concepts within the U of T community, such as the antics of Jordan Peterson or all of those posters around campus that call the university ‘boundless.’

The stresses of our lives, including extreme academic pressure, sky-high tuition fees, ever-increasing job insecurity, and a crumbling mental health system, have inevitably given way to the “the surreal and bizarre,” as Bruenig puts it. But memes have distilled our anxieties into something else — something that is, dare I say, boundless. Memes help us communicate and share inside jokes and references about the student experience without having to rely on formal language, reinforcing our sense of community as students at this university. In fact, it’s hard to imagine how the content these memes could be expressed in any other medium.

Our memes have tapped into something that few other student publications or organizations have been able to truly understand, and they have helped us raise common thoughts about the student experience that might have previously stayed private. Since so many people are in one meme group, sharing thoughts on any given topic only requires creating a post. The impact of that accessibility can be unexpectedly far-reaching, especially for this campus — consider that only 4,403 students cast votes for UTSU President during the first round of last year’s UTSU elections, a figure lower than the amount of people who belong to ‘UofT Memes For Edgy Teens.’

In a way, memes are more representative of student beliefs than anything else, as they are so easily accessible and the groups are so democratized. If you really want to understand what’s going on in the student mind — what has resulted from our unique circumstances, and what issues actually draw people’s attention and concerns — look no further than our meme groups.

Adina Heisler is a third-year student at University College studying Women & Gender Studies and English. She is The Varsity’s Student Life Columnist.

Thanks for the memeries

When words fail, memes provide an effective outlet for exchange

Thanks for the memeries

“Don’t talk to me or my son ever again!” I once yelled, in response to a particularly egregious pun. I wanted to convey that I appreciated the joke, but that I had also noticed the dreadful nature of the pun. I decided, therefore, that exaggerated outrage was the best way of communicating this specific sentiment.

By referencing a meme, I successfully conveyed the mixture of hilarity and disdain that I felt — a feeling that not even the phrase “I feel a mixture of hilarity and disdain” could have achieved.

Communication is, at its core, an exchange of information. It is a transmission of a message to someone else, the goal being to reach as close to a complete and total understanding as possible.

Since words have a myriad of connotations, and people associate different thoughts, feelings, and experiences to them, we will never be able to reach an identical understanding. Memes are a mechanism that can bring us closer to that ideal understanding, better than words ever can.

Memes represent communicative progress — their meaning is emotive and comes from the collective consciousness of popular culture.

Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist, coined the term ‘meme’ in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. Dawkins described the phenomenon of meme retention as a process similar to the ways in which organisms evolve.

With this interpretation in mind, memes represent communicative progress — their meaning is emotive and comes from the collective consciousness of popular culture. The result is relatability: a compelling form of understanding stemming from the evocation of a shared interest.

Memes are also a symbol of progress in a temporal sense. They lend themselves wonderfully to the technologies of modern communication; they can be sent as an attachment or hyperlink in a text-based conversation.

The rise of social media platforms such as Tumblr, reddit, and Facebook contributed to the spread of memes and created the environment in which they are interpreted. Some of the most popular and successful memes use irony, which relies heavily on the knowledge of their context.

One argument against memes as a legitimate form of communication emphasizes that memes often include non-standard spelling, punctuation, and grammar. This argument challenges conventional standards of communication in general; I could argue that the question “Why did you do that?” is correct and that the question “y u do dat????” is not.

If the goal behind communication is to send a comprehensible message though, and both forms of the question achieve this, then the objection applies merely to the construction of the question. Regardless of how someone may feel about the rules of grammar, the essence of the meaning remains. Thus, communication can be considered successful so long as the recipient understands what is being said.

This contempt for popular culture derives from its accessibility and is driven by a classist moral superiority complex.

In fact, “y u do dat????” may even be closer to the intended meaning. The excessive use of question marks at the end could demonstrate an increase in incredulity or a level of surprise that the ‘correct’ version of the question may not evoke. The non-standard spelling may be a nod to irony, or it may show that the question was formulated under time or space constraints.

On the Internet, we observe a rise in non-standard spelling, whether in reference to popular culture or not. Errors resulting from typing at a high speed, as well as conscious choices in some cases, contribute to this trend.

Additionally, some Internet users are typing to mimic vocal speech patterns. These variations on standard spelling include the inconsistent use of capital letters or an inversion of accepted uppercase and lowercase forms.

For instance, beginning with a lowercase letter and proceeding with capitals indicates that the speaker’s voice is rising in loudness — a contextual addition that could not be attained within the restrictions of proper grammar.

The reliance of memes on popular culture is also used to dismiss them as a lesser form of communication. This contempt for popular culture derives from its accessibility and is driven by a classist moral superiority complex.

It may be ‘edgy’ to decry what others find enjoyable, but it represents a fundamental disrespect for entertainment to apply criticism simply because something is widely available. This thinking is similar to the assumption that, because you don’t need to be formally educated to enjoy things like reality television, such entertainment should be reserved only for those without formal education.

Likewise, the same is true of non-standard spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Many arguments have been made with people who adhere steadfastly to the rules of grammar, who will go out of their way to correct other people’s grammar, in order to assert intellectual and moral superiority. I, too, have been guilty of this at many points in my life; I would weaponize my command of the English language, as though it made the substance of my argument better.

Eschewing memes for their grammatical non-conformity and relationship to popular culture is illogical and classist. Conventions of grammar and other areas of language are constantly evolving to suit modern communicative needs. Memes are simply an expression of that change.

Memes challenge base standards for communication and introduce new ways of relating to others on a fundamental level every day. They ought to be acknowledged as a growing communication movement and not dismissed for their perceived vacuousness. They should be shared and rightfully enjoyed as vehicles for bonding.

In the same manner that a picture is worth a thousand words, a .gif is worth a thousand pictures — and a meme is worth a thousand .gifs.

Iris Robin is a Trinity College alumna who studied English Literature and French. They were The Varsity’s 2015–2016 News Editor.

The triumph of John Scott (and other uninspiring athletes)

Tracing an athlete’s rise to popularity in the age of the meme

The triumph of John Scott (and other uninspiring athletes)

In the Arizona Coyotes’ most recent game against the Winnipeg Jets, Coyotes left-winger John Scott averaged roughly five minutes and 11 seconds on the ice. He did not receive a single goal or assist, let alone a single shot on net, and would have been entirely forgettable had it not been for a two-minute penalty he received during the second period of play. Now, after 11 games and one recorded point this season, Scott is headed to the NHL’s All-Star game with absolutely nothing to show for it.

How did such a low-caliber athlete get into the all-star game, you might ask?

It’s a long story.

His rise to fame began a few months back, when fans of the Arizona Coyotes were asked to vote on their preferred players for the NHL’s annual talent show. Arizona — a state that’s 90 per cent desert and 10 per cent cacti — isn’t exactly known for its love of the puck, so it’s no surprise that the fans elected one of the worst players on the team to perform. 

After being voted in by fans, Scott was subsequently traded to the Montreal Canadiens who sent him down to their farm team, the St. John’s IceCaps upon arrival. It seemed, briefly, as though all hope was lost. Until an Internet movement — bound together by a mutual appreciation for this deficient competitor — resurrected Scott from the bowels of the minor leagues.

The group behind the movement demanded that the national league, as they put it, “#FreeJohnScott.” The fans succeeded, and Scott will now captain the Pacific All-Stars in their match against the Central All-Stars. In a nutshell, that’s how John Scott became a so-called All-Star (Captain All-Star, at that), but more importantly, it’s how John Scott became #JohnScott. 

Scott is one of many mediocre athletes to reach surprising heights of popularity entirely by accident. But skill level doesn’t necessarily equate popularity. Gone are the days when fans prescribed worth based solely on athletic expertise. In the age of Internet memes, professional athletes can be any level of athletic proficiency — as inspiring or uninspiring as they please — and still develop a cult following that could blow LeBron James’ fan-base out of the water. While recruiters look for specific skill-sets in professional athletes, online popularity strives on quirks, physical appeal, or one eyebrow where there should be two. The goal is not to find an inspirational figure for us to cling to; rather, it’s to find amusement that will appease our momentary attention spans. 

It’s hard to say where all this started, but then again, it’s hard to say where anything ‘started’ on the Internet. At some point or another, somebody found an athlete’s face, actions, or performance laughable, packaged it into a meme, and catapulted their creation into cyberspace. 

NFL quarterback Tim Tebow was one of the first athletes to fall prey to the Internet’s memedom, when the act of ‘Tebowing’ became a popular practice amongst football and non-football fans alike. His stats weren’t deplorable, but they were nothing to write home about either. People liked him because he’d drop to one knee when overcome.

The other popular athlete who found meme-fueled fame, is Anthony Davis, whose name NBA fans wouldn’t recognize had it not been for his unibrow. The Internet quickly picked up on his captivating facial hair, meme’d it, and now — as a non-NBA fan — you’re more likely to recognize Davis than you are to recognize Steph Curry. 

Needless to say, the popular yet mediocre athlete has long predated the Internet. The ‘entertainers’ — like Tie Domi, Dennis Rodman, or Dock Ellis — have been around as long as fans have taken pleasure from the oddities of sport. But now, said entertainer is selected rather randomly, and often without the athlete’s knowledge. Davis didn’t set out to have his face become a popular Internet meme, and Scott certainly didn’t plan to play in the all-star game. But in the world of sporadic and momentary online trends, anything is possible.