Author: Sam Ovenshine
With the loss of a class at graduation each May and an influx of new freshmen in August, collective student bodies have short memories. Remember the new bells? Current first-years don’t. How about Bill Nye’s visit? President Skotheim? Unless you’re a senior, the odds aren’t good. And last semester’s spate of alcohol poisonings? They’re already lost on this semester’s dozen spring transfers.
Students may constantly share gripes about Occidental, discuss the college’s latest fads and recount noteworthy moments from class or activities (call them ‘Oxy chats’), but the conversations—informal and unrecorded—are lost as time passes, memories fade away and new classes cycle in and out. We all have a story about the night Mount Fiji caught fire or the time Kathy, assembling a sandwich, made our day. But how to share such a story? Not with parents (they just don’t understand) nor with friends from other schools (“Wait, so what’s OSL and what’s ORSL?”). But now, with the creation of a new Facebook page, these ‘Oxy chats’ may have come into the digital age and found a place of permanence.
In the week and a half since its creation, “Oxy Memes,” a Facebook page and virtual forum for posting memes—iconic pictures paired with funny, semi-formulaic, semi-customized captions—about the quotidian, ephemeral or simply irksome aspects of life at Occidental College, has posted more than 365 creative, student-uploaded images. Many of the images express humorous messages that are confessional in tone (caption on an image of a socially awkward penguin: “People shouting in the hall . . . spies on them through peep hole”) or displeased (naive freshman: “Thinks he can redress grievances with Office of the Registrar”). Others are simply funny (a winking Sarah Palin: “I can see Russia from the top of Mt. Fiji”) or highlight the mundane but strikingly familiar (a grinning face: “Checks mail for first time in two months . . . Spitz coupons”). With over 1,250 likes at the time of publication, the page is now the third most popular at Occidental, behind only the college’s official Facebook page (6,111 likes) and Oxy Housing (1,391). Pages for well-known Occidental institutions, such as ASOC (399), OSL (440), the football program (317) and the bookstore (145) have significantly fewer likes, despite being online for years.
Aseem Mangaokar, a first-year from Singapore, created Oxy Memes on Feb. 6 in Braun Hall. “I was talking to a friend from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and she showed me her school’s meme page. She told me, ‘You should totally make one for Oxy,’ and I was trying to procrastinate, so I made the page that night.”
Within an hour, images of a grinning imp appeared, captioned with two of the oldest entries in the Occidental jokebook: “You go to Occidental? Did you get in on accident?” one read. “You go to Occidental? Do you study dentistry?” asked the other. Afterward, dozens more images tumbled in, and as students liked them, the images began showing up in many students’ Facebook News Feeds.
Oxy Memes’ immediate success surprised even Mangaokar. “I knew at some point it would grow big,” he said. “But by the end of the first night, it had gotten 340 to 370 likes.”
Wisconsin’s and Occidental’s meme pages were just two links in a long chain of college and university meme pages that developed during the first half of last week. By Feb. 9, more than a hundred colleges such as Yale, Stanford, New York University, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Oxford had their own meme pages, but Mangaokar said Occidental’s page was among the earliest.
“It was one of the first for a liberal arts college,” he said.
Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins coined the term ‘meme’ in his landmark 1976 work “The Selfish Gene” to describe units that act to spread ideas or norms quickly through a culture or a people. Internet memes, which are similarly virus-like in their propagation and hardiness, have flourished for more than a decade on 4Chan and other websites located deep in the Internet’s seedy underbelly. Online, memes are often as cruel, acerbic and vulgar as the users that populate these websites, but for Oxy Memes, the use of real names and the everyone-knows-everyone-else nature of the college (one meme depicts a ‘Captain Hindsight’ character declaring, “If you didn’t want everyone to know your business, you shouldn’t have gone to this school”) have provided a powerful antidote to the anarchy of the Internet. Late Thursday night, after one user uploaded an image that condoned rape, group members denounced the image, and Mangaokar intervened to remove it within minutes.
“Someone posted a really inappropriate meme on here earlier, so I want to apologize to anyone who had to see it,” Mangaokar wrote on the page’s wall. “And to its author: Rape jokes are never funny, in any context, ever.” The comment received 104 likes.
The removal of images, such as those that target individual students or violate Occidental’s student handbook, has been uncommon, Mangaokar said. Images are publicly viewable upon posting, and though they often address touchy topics like dining facility prices, tuition costs, past housing registration debacles and Internet outages (and ITS emails in response), the tone on the page has been frank but civil.
Mangaokar attributed Oxy Meme’s instant appeal to the ease of use, community atmosphere and lack of formality. “In a matter of seconds, you can create a meme and post your point of view in an open, non-judgmental setting,” he said.
C.J. Cruz (sophomore) was one of the page’s first and most active users. “I really feel our community bonding over laughter,” he wrote on the page on Feb. 7.
Nora Feichtmeir (junior) praised the page half an hour after Cruz. “This simple Facebook page has done two things: created a venue for students to talk about the aspects of Oxy that need to change (yay catharsis!) and inadvertently bonded us in our mutual experiences. In three different situations today I spoke to students I had never really met before about awesome/funny stuff we saw on this page, and it really brightened my day. Keep up the good work.”
Mangaokar, whom many described as “Oxy’s new celebrity” last week, said the page has gotten him attention online and around campus. “I’ve been approached about it. I was in the library one night with my friends, and someone came up behind me and shook my hand,” he said.
While individual memes have a lifespan shorter than a student body’s memory—after someone posts an image, a flurry of likes comes in, a few people comment and everyone moves on to a new image — Mangaokar said he hopes “Oxy Memes” will continue to be a place for students to share their Occidental experiences with a touch of humor.
“I hope it’s not taken in too much seriousness,” he said.
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