Just over a year ago, I moved 4,000 kilometers away from my home city of Vancouver to Toronto. I found myself alone in a new place I had never visited before with absolutely no friends or job in the middle of winter. While this was one of the most challenging and terrifying periods of my life, it has also been the most rewarding and life-changing.
I clung onto whatever I could to keep me myself afloat, trying desperately not to sink into the deepest depths of despair. I phoned my parents constantly and cried my eyes out. I found momentary refuge in the escapism of video games. I kept myself busy by constantly working, allowing for little down time in which to lament.
In the midst of this uncertainty, working a dead-end job, I kept myself stable through a Facebook Messenger conversation with two Vancouver friends in which we sent each other memes. Self-deprecating memes have allowed me to make light of my lonely existence and chuckle on a daily basis while still anxious and depressed.
Eventually, I decided to make a Facebook group after seeing the many online communities in which people have come together in celebration of the things they love. I created a group and added a bunch of dank meme enthusiasts from my friend’s list. After that, I advertised in other Facebook groups to grow awareness. Today, my group has over 2,000 members, many of which live in Toronto.
Creating safe spaces in the online world can be exceedingly difficult. At first, I simply deleted whatever content I disliked, but as membership grew, it became increasingly important to define more rigid parameters. I imposed a set of community guidelines notifying members that by joining the group, they agreed not to post anything racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, and so on and so forth.
When I started banning certain types of memes, the “edgelords” came out of hiding and revealed their true forms. After arguing extensively, for example, over why Harambe memes contribute to racism or why “triggered” is not a funny joke, it was time to wield the flaming banhammer and add more admins to the team.
With eight admins, community guidelines, a list of banned memes, and a trigger warning notice in effect, my meme group feel like one of those rare places on the internet where I have felt safe being open about my mental health, queerness, leftist politics, intersectional feminism, or even poop nonchalantly.
Meeting people can be extremely anxiety-inducing in that it’s hard to find like-minded people who not only share a similar sense of humour but are also feminist. Having a social justice warrior meme group has brought people into my life who are serious about their politics and also fucking hilarious. In all honesty, this meme group has restored at least some of my faith in humanity knowing that people can have a sense of humour without being huge pieces of shit.
Trying to make friends organically in a new city can be both daunting and defeating. Fortunately, social media allows us to join and create niche virtual communities which can in turn lead to real world meaningful relationships. When you are already situated in a place where people are interested in the same things as you, it’s easier to generate a conversation online than it is to go through the excruciatingly awkward posturing of small talk with strangers.
My very first “Meme Up” was a success, with over 20 people getting together to drink beers and laugh. Someone offered to host a pre-game so a few of us socially anxious members could break the ice and have some warm up drinks. We headed to the comedy bar we were to meet at for 9 p.m., striking a quick group-thinking pose before our arrival. The event itself was super chill and overall a really great time with everyone being funny, kind and a kick ass social justice warrior.
The plan for the next “Meme Up” is to play boardgames followed by a round of epic karaoke. At present, 90 people have RSVP’d as “attending” on Facebook. We’re going to bring several different kinds of Doritos to snack on and Mountain Dew to guzzle. There will hopefully be several renditions of “All Star” by Smash Mouth from that historical opening scene of Shrek and maybe even some Evanescence to rekindle the flame of our emo days.
The beautiful thing about this meme group is that the very thing that kept me alive during my time of transition and feelings of isolation has in fact brought me the greatest sense of community to date and has also resulted in lasting friendships. I am a strong believer in IRL to URL and am planning to continue hosting “Meme Ups,” each of which will be danker than the last.