The trend suggests that memes aren’t just for lulz anymore. This year’s proliferation of quote, text and script-like memes on Tumblr revealed a deeper interest in things like mental health and wellness. Memes like “breadsticks” are changing feminism, apparently, and the simplicity of “ask” meme has led not only to an astoundingly creative range of witticisms, but also to many an in-depth conversation about feelings and fandoms.
“We’re jaded with how meme culture is and we’re tired of advice animals and images,” Brennan says. “It’s like, ‘what else can we do that’s contagious and fun and exploratory?’”
Bloggers on Tumblr can make textual (as opposed to audio or visual) posts in one of three formats: simple text, quote or chat. Unlike some other social networks, Tumblr also doesn’t put a character limit on text.
That empowers bloggers to write just about anything — from a made-up question from the PSAT to several hundred words expounding on the qualities that make Gemini, Taurus and Aries good Ravenclaws. Or to collage separate text posts with screenshots from popular TV shows and movies, as in the “text post” meme: the juxtaposition of “Parks and Recreation’s” Tom Haverford + random thoughts on Tumblr = thousands of notes and instant virality.
Inappropriate Audition Songs, a hallmark of the text-based genre, pairs a part in a musical and and an audition song that is truly, utterly, totally wrong for it. (This year, the meme reached just about every niche in the Tumblrverse, becoming the third most-reblogged meme there.)
Meanwhile, text-based memes like “You gotta” and “f— me up” touched on issues of mental health by imagining a conversation between the writer and her brain, the writer and her anxiety, or the writer and her depression. Most of the time, the writer is losing the conversation; it’s an apparently fluffy format for a serious confession.
Ultimately, Brennan says, that may explain the rise of the text-based meme: It’s the perfect vehicle for balancing real feels and substantive issues with typical Internet irony.
“It’s using meme culture to work through your feelings,” Brennan says. “‘I feel these things and I want to express them in a way that’s maybe less serious than what I’m feeling’ … You get a community without writing these sad posts that maybe you’re not ready to post yet.”
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