On Mon., Aug. 24th I joined “Sitka Chatters,” a Facebook group for the eponymous coastal Alaskan town where I’m spending my semester off. The discourse is what you’d expect from any forum dedicated to a sub-10,000 person, politically diverse municipality—bike sales, farmer’s market announcements, one very racist man running for city council—but peppered with a veritable scent of fishing (boats, rods, etc.).
I imagine the concept of the Facebook group in most people’s minds is something in the likeness of “Sitka Chatters”: nothing more than a digital bulletin, really. But all practical uses aside, the Facebook group is an unsuspecting medium for what I think is sometimes the best humor around. So sue me.
My journey began when I was added to “New Urbanist Memes for Transit-Oriented Teens” (NUMTOT) in junior year of high school. The name of the group tells you pretty much all you need to know—dozens of pictures of “lomgbois” (long trains),* “bendybois” (articulated buses), Bichaels (bikes), and Tramelas (aerial trams), interspersed with fiery takes on housing development and subway ridership. I jokingly credit NUMTOT for inspiring me to study urbanism, but in all seriousness I do think the deluge of bizarre bus memes in my Facebook feed may have actually kindled my curiosity to some degree.
credit: Matthew Merz in “New Urbanist Memes for Transit-Oriented Teens”
NUMTOT, now boasting over two hundred thousand members, represents perhaps the most widely known species in the order of Facebook humor groups: the themed meme. As any biologist will tell you, nomenclature is of utmost importance: the formula, “___ memes for ___ ___” must always rhyme. There’s “Wild Green Memes for Ecological Fiends” (my FOOT leader added me to this one) and the all-too-familiar “Yale Memes for Special Snowflake Teens.”
Content in these massive groups moves at a blistering pace with an absurd volume of posts. As I write this, “Wild Green Memes” is having a field day with a particular photo of a frog in a cranberry bog (the rhyming certainly helps), but tomorrow or the next day, this tune will be long gone. In this same group a few months ago, someone inquired about the texture of dolphin skin, imagining it to feel like the outside of an olive. My feed exploded with pictures of olives superimposed into dolphin scenes. And although these themes are quickly fleeting, they tend to return months later with just as much gusto—a wonderful reminder of collective memory.
credit: Katherine Woodhouse (L) and Curtis Sarkin (R) in “Wild Green Memes for Ecological Fiends”
These days, I’ve generally outgrown the hundred-thousand user themed meme groups. They often become too big and broad—stupid Photoshopped pictures superseded by nasty comment exchanges and boring articles (which is not what I signed up for). It’s a process akin to the lifecycle of any successful alternative band. One day they’re playing the basement of 216, but over time they grow. When they start selling out MSG and bundling merch with album sales, all the hipsters get the hell out of there (me included).**
But the beauty of these meme behemoths is how they spawn the next generation of internet randomness. Every day, members with frustrations similar to mine initiate more niche and radical spinoff groups. In recent months, I have dropped NUMTOT in favor of “Fuck, and I can’t stress this enough, them cars,” and I couldn’t be happier.
It’s certainly a slow process to curate an entertaining selection of groups; the transience and volatility of this online culture turn necessitates an endless journey. I join and leave groups regularly, often finding new troves of content tagged deep in the comments of posts in other groups. A depressing pie chart on public transit funding in NUMTOT led me to “I Feel Personally Attacked by this Relatable Graph,” in turn revealing “I Feel Personally Attacked by this Relatable Map,” and eventually “I Feel Personally Attacked by this Colorblind-Hostile Content.” The web of groups is tightly bound by connections exceedingly random. And when I log on to Facebook, memes from different groups across this ever-narrowing maze of tunnels appear alongside each other in my feed—a fractal folding onto itself, randomness redoubling.
My latest discovery is “Malaphors Are My Piece of Cake,” a group where users post intentionally botched idioms and erroneous expressions.
“That’s a lot to unpack, let’s just burn that suitcase when we get to it;” “Even a blind squirrel is right twice a day;” “A watched pot never prospers;” “Dwayne the Rock Lobster,” to give you a small sample.
“Malaphors” perfectly captures my love for the idiosyncrasies of the internet, a beautifully erratic perversion of Facebook’s mission to create community, connect people, make the world a better place, whatever. The endless riffing, stacking, connecting, and combining in these groups give me hope that users can break the ordered hierarchy of the big social networks. They also just make me laugh.
* It’s truly spelled “lomg,” with an “m”… another weird internetism.
**To my knowledge this has never happened to a band that actually played 216. Vampire Weekend (Columbia) is probably the best comparison.