Trivializing real issues with memes

Memes, once defined as “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture” (Source:, have been transformed into the relatable posts shared by friends on social media, the witty captions that take photos out of context and the one-hit wonders that gain global notoriety after they resonate with just one person. We integrate memes into our communication to make otherwise serious or nebulous topics more approachable, but in doing so, we trivialize the gravity of such issues and limit the practice of forming and expressing our own opinions.

Many people, myself included, are cognizant of and responsible for the prevalence of memes in everyday life. Judging from countless retweets, reblogs and posts on Facebook, I can infer that memes are no longer a mere pastime, but a lifestyle. They are conversation starters, time wasters and seemingly accurate representations of emotions, but in the end, they add sometimes inappropriate levity to controversial subjects.

On the eve of the new presidency, an unprecedented meme was used to show discontent over the incoming administration. Photos of former President Barack Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden, captioned with highly improbable conversations in opposition to the inauguration of Donald Trump, took the internet by storm. This convergence of politics and popular culture, while arguably entertaining, elucidates the political preferences of the creators and supporters but is a blatant example of ad hominem, or the futile attack of a person without regard to his stance or policies.

Perhaps the most recent and widely popular meme is the words of Danielle Bregoli. The name most likely doesn’t ring a bell, but the phrase “cash me ousside, howbow dah” probably will. These are the words of a 13-year-old girl whose accent, according to her, comes from the “streets” and whose infamous appearance on Dr. Phil for disobedience, theft and violence landed her in a rehabilitation treatment at Turn-About Ranch School. What seems like a joke to us is, in fact, the reality for a problematic teen in need of mental and emotional therapy. As we encourage the spread of her slurred, defiant words, we are giving her validation for her actions that led up to them, as well as condoning that type of behavior in our everyday lives.

The virulence of memes is contagious, and oftentimes we overlook the context behind them before sharing to other people. While they are an undeniably popular method of relaying messages, we must be aware of their connotations and recognize the importance of maintaining our own voice, not the voice of the general public. Consider this before you picture Kermit the frog sipping his tea: it is your business.

By Cherie Chu, Staff writer
Photo by Melissa Kim