Instagram Memes Provide Comic Relief

Aaron Sabeti and Luke Wiener

Instagram memes: the quintessential driving force that keeps society going. These memes appeal to Pali students because they poke fun at the specific problems familiar to many teenagers. Students enjoy a wide array of sub-genres, ranging from the most obscure, esoteric humor to  “normie” humor, as seen in the accounts run by @Daquan and @Hoodclips and others amassing over a million followers. Meme culture has come a long way since its roots in the early 2000s, distancing itself from some of the early Internet memes such as the troll face. Recently, the ironic meme community has been exploring the abstract value of those memes from so long ago, with the impact-font format being one of the most popular.

 Humor on Instagram has been following a trend of ironically making fun of trends. This is exemplified in memes that poke fun at fads, like the changing of profile pictures to support human rights issues as well as memes that poke fun of political accounts. 

Well-known among the ironic meme community, @obama.gaming has accumulated about 17.4k followers and is the founder of the “.gaminghouse.” The “.gaminghouse” is a group of meme pages whose account names end with “.gaming.” Notable members include @shaq.gaming, @billclinton.gaming and @kanyewest.gaming.

In real life, @obama.gaming takes four AP classes, stays after school for clubs and posts in the morning or during breaks in the school day. He said: “The irony community is currently at a stalemate since there’s nothing big to make fun of. I only see the irony community expanding… [if the] next big thing to make fun of… happens soon. A good example was the area 51 meme.” 

Running meme pages and creating high-quality original content may seem like a simple side hobby, but it doesn’t come without its fair share of trials and tribulations. For some, it is more than just a social activity, but a source of income and a way of life.

Former Pali student @clammynipples has amassed approximately 421k followers. He runs a page that mostly reposts memes from other accounts, the majority of which originally were TikTok videos.

“I spend around one to four hours managing my page,” @clammynipples stated. “I make memes for fun… but I never expected it to get this large.” This excludes his personal account and his three other meme pages, which amass over 100k followers combined.

 Recently, a growing number of meme pages of all sizes are being flagged by other users, a move that may trigger penalties ranging from temporary blocks to permanent deletion. 

Another popular page with about 80 thousand followers, @realkingofdank, isn’t too fond of Instagram’s management either. “Recently Instagram completely changed the explore algorithm, making it almost impossible to get consistent exposure for public pages,” he said. “So I have to be private to grow, which also means I have to post a ton more. But I’m not posting based on the algorithm, I’m posting stuff I think people will find funny.”

This fear of losing an account, which was only a fleeting concern in the previous years, is now something is causing anxiety among meme page owners.

Some large meme pages have expressed that this is reminiscent of a purge or a witch trial, where Instagram’s skewed guidelines serve as judge, jury and executioner. In many reported account incidents involving uber-popular meme pages and Instagram’s help center, admins lose their pages to seemingly insignificant reports or baseless claims of hate speech. In the Great Meme Purge of July 2019, more than 40 million followers and $600,000 in revenue were lost in this seemingly haphazard attack on accounts, which included @finest.inventions (13 million), @uniquevines (8.3 million) and @succccccccccccc (3.7 million).

“I see [memes] going to another platform as [Instagram] isn’t reliable and is getting rid of content that it deems to be unfit for its community,” @clammynipples stated. “Anything that isn’t aligned with the Instagram team’s views has a good chance of being censored.”

Despite the turbulence of recent reports, there are pages that remain a special source of happiness for many. One example is the “doge” meme, picturing a Japanese Shiba Inu dog. Debuting in 2010, the iconic picture of the dog on a couch looking surprised garnered the attention of the meme community, which was still in its infancy at the time. The doge meme, which took on a life of its own, is quite possibly the most versatile and universal of memes. Being one of the largest doge-related meme pages with 37.7 thousand followers, @yourfrienddoge holds a great influence on the community. “My friend kept asking me why so many bad things kept happening to doge, so I decided to make one [meme] where good things happen to him,” @yourfrienddoge said, reflecting on how his page came to exist. 

@yourfrienddoge and his friend make every meme themselves. They continue to post daily on their account to make people feel amused. “It’s always nice hearing people say they’ve had a rough day at school, been depressed, etc., and they come home and cheer up seeing our posts,” he mentioned.

They are committed to posting as much as they possibly can and revealed that “when [I] first started, a lot of hours were invested in making material. I’m talking two plus hours a day because we were so new to making memes. I would literally use my lunch breaks to focus on memes and it became overwhelming.” When asked if he wanted to turn his hobby into a career or even a side-hustle, @yourfrienddoge said: “Naw. I just wanna make people smile. Same philosophy I have in real life.”

Memes and their sub-genres have been one of the defining focal points of Generation Z. Most teens are readily available to engage in a conversation only through referencing memes, something that earlier generations may never understand. The meme pages of Instagram provide an endless stream of content that keeps humor evolving on the Internet.