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Why is Gen Z Humor So Weird?

By Mary Burke (‘19)

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Chances are, if anyone was born before the 2000s, they might remember memes as being white boldface font around a quirky picture. There was “Bad Luck Brian”, “The Most Interesting Man in the World”, “Dramatic Chipmunk”, and “Condescending Willy Wonka” to name a few.

Despite their popularity among millennials who have since matured past their meme days of middle school and high school, traditional memes didn’t quite pick up with Generation Z. Instead, a strange new monster formed from the ashes of Bad Luck Brian (he can never catch a break): DANK MEMES.

What are dank memes? Dank memes have many different attributes and definitions. As puts it, “dank meme [...] refer[s] to exceptionally unique or odd memes”. They tend to be so strange and obscure they become funny, and that is what makes them so popular.

Most agree that the first time the phrase, “dank meme” appeared was in an internet game called Runescape in 2013. It was used when a police officer in the game gave a ticket for memes not being “dank” enough. There was another instance when a Gnome Child (a character in the game) was born and the caption under it read: “born just in time to browse dank memes.” The use of the phrase grew until it peaked in 2016.

Dank memes and dank meme sites then began sprouting all over Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Sites like Dankest Memes, Dank Memes Melt Steel Beams, and my personal favorite, Edgy Memes for Edgy Teens, started to grow in popularity.

One of the most notable of these sites is Bernie Sanders’ Dank Meme Stash. During the 2016 election this group gained popularity and currently has 405,300 members who all churn out about 50 memes a day. The memes are centered around Bernie’s campaign and the political climate in general. There is also Dank Memes Melt Steel Beams on Facebook which has 2.5 million follows.

Sites like these and the rise in amount of time kids and young adults spend on the internet and on their phones have created a “meme culture”. Being part of and participating in meme culture can provide one with a community full of people only trying to have a good time. Unfortunately, this community can be inaccessible to people who don’t understand the funniest and dankest of memes. Meme culture is especially closed off to people who like normie memes.

If a meme has been on Ellen… it’s a normie meme. Once it’s a popular and highly talked about meme… it’s a normie meme. These memes are not allowed in the dank meme community, in fact, they are shunned. But, most teens are “in” with the fads, and they know what’s normie and what’s not.

Some of the most notable meme communities are in high schools and colleges. In South Brunswick High School there is a large meme community. Some people are viewers, some people are critics, and some are even creators.

A member of the class of 2019, Zohaib Butt, is one of these meme entrepreneurs. His Instagram meme page, @spicedaddy.original, has all sorts of memes. About meme culture in our high school, Butt said, “I think people love memes in SBHS. [...] Students here love to share memes amongst their peers. And teachers do too. Many teachers, as much as we don’t want them to, use memes in their presentations and sometimes [they’re] actually good so it lightens the mood of the learning environment.”

The meme community stretches beyond the students and even goes into teacher’s presentations to keep the students entertained.

“People love memes. It only takes a few seconds of viewing content that could bring you joy equivalent to childbirth,” he said.

Another student-made meme page is @poogawd made by Krithi Srinivas.

She said, “@poogawd is a meme page I made because I was bored and needed to fill a void in my life. Memes are the reason I wake up in the morning, and I’m sure many can relate to me when I say that. They are basically the reason for my happiness.”

Many young people can relate to Srinivas. Even though life is good and there are things to live for, memes simply make life better.

Some people may think that memes have been slowly dissipating since their birth, but that is not the case.

Srinivas said, “Meme culture is very widespread. You have memes targeting all age groups now when in the past it was mostly for like older teens.”

Memes have become more and more prevalent in our society among young people and older generations. Memes are one of the most important mediums for sharing opinions, ideas, humor, and sometimes misinformation.

Although it can seem like memes are all fun and games, they are sometimes distorted by racists and bigots to spread falsities and lies. One of theses distorted memes is most notably Pepe the Frog (*insert sad Pepe*). The Pepe meme, once a harmless newspaper cartoon, has been turned into a calling card for far-right political organizations like the Alt-Right. The cartoon has been used to spread racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic messages.

Pepe the Frog wasn’t originally anti-Semitic, however, groups like the Alt-Right, 4chan, 8chan, and Reddit created a meme which spread harmful views, and now, Pepe is well known for its racist undertones.

The innocent cartoon has been twisted so much that the creator, Matt Furie, filed a lawsuit for copyright infringement in March.

When asked about the importance of memes, Butt said, “Memes are a blessing from above. Such a blessing that can prove the existence of God. But us welders must take much care, because with such a tool, we hold the power to either start or end careers.”

Memes are extremely important to many people, especially in South Brunswick High School, and the meme community spreads much farther than most people realize. Although it sometimes seems like memes are a waste of time or they only do bad for the world, they summon emotions which start conversations and bring happiness to many.

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