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Think before you share: the ugly side of memes

BY CARISSA ECONOMOS

A meme, which is typically pronounced me-eam, is defined by Merriam-Webster as “an amusing or interesting item (such as a captioned picture or video) or genre of items that is spread widely online especially through social media.” Memes have become a staple of our generation and can fade as quickly as they can go viral. While the point of most memes is to be humorous, many of them stem from public events and poke fun at issues that are not to be taken lightly. They are overused and often times misrepresent the actual event or situation. People simply look at a meme that is captioned with some sort of news headline and think they are actually reading the news. Because of this, hashtags start trending across social media platforms and awareness is brought to issues that aren’t actually real.

The most recent meme trend that I’ve noticed is #FreeMelania. Associated with this hashtag are countless videos and pictures of Melania Trump at the Presidential Inauguration on Jan. 20. These images and video clips depict her as being upset or sad, but in reality were captured during moments when she simply didn’t have a huge smile on her face. Several public pages on Facebook have been made and titled #FreeMelania. They post pictures of her looking sad next to Donald Trump and express their pity for her. These posts receive several thousand likes and comments from Facebook users saying to “pray for her” and that “no one knows what she’s going through behind closed doors.”

Melania Trump is unfairly being presented as a victim, implying that her husband is abusing her and she got sucked into becoming First Lady against her will. While the full truth of the matter is confidential between Mr. and Mrs. Trump, it is inconsiderate and straight up immoral to impose on another’s private relationship in this way. Exposing Melania Trump as some sort of abused, helpless woman all for an internet joke is a little messed up and reflects on us as a society. It brings to light how immature our generation is and how little respect we have for those who are actually victims of domestic abuse.

Another recent, less politically-driven meme has emerged from a video clip of a 13-year-old girl named Danielle. She was brought on the Dr. Phil show by her mother due to her unacceptable and violent behavior. In her interview on the show, she is recorded saying to the audience, “Catch me outside, how about that,” otherwise known as “cash me ousside, how bou dat.” Because of the audience’s reaction to stories of her behavior, Danielle threatened that she was ready to fight whomever outside after the show.

While the comical side of this is clear, the underlying story is not a laughing matter. This girl has extreme behavioral issues at a young age, and instead of focusing on her mannerisms and her need for help, our society has decided to turn her personal problems into viral memes with her face all over them and remixes of her saying “cash me ousside, how bou dat.” (The trap remix is personally my favorite, but the EDM one isn’t bad either.) Even The Lodge, a local Tampa restaurant and bar, has exploited this meme, using it to advertise their brunch and happy hour specials. Not only is this exposing a minor, but it in no way aids her journey toward cleaning up her life. She has become the laughing stock of the country when it is obvious from her interview that family members such as her mother are suffering greatly because of her behavior.

Not all memes come from public events or figures. Some are derived from cartoons or music videos, and some are just created by everyday people who take a random picture and caption it with something funny that ends up going viral. Memes generate a lot of clicks and views on the internet and can make their way into real, non-virtual life, often becoming part of our vocabulary or daily conversation. If we were to channel this much energy and enthusiasm into creating awareness about real world issues that actually matter and have a tangible impact on us, there would not be as much ignorance or as many uninformed citizens in the world. Popular meme pages have follower counts in the millions or high hundred thousands, and an equal or even larger number of reposts and comments. The passion is there, it just needs to be directed towards situations that actually matter. I, too, am a sucker for some good memes, but I know if I directed half the time I spend laughing at funny pictures I find online towards educating myself about what is going on in the world, I would be a much more active member in society.

The outcome of this year’s presidential election has been the most controversial story the country has seen in recent years, and countless people were shocked at how this could have happened. If a little less time was spent scrolling through funny pictures and instead looking into politics and our country’s current social issues in order to make an informed vote, the results might have been different. But hey, that’s just my opinion. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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