Memes take campuses by storm

By Brianne Johnson, Daily Arts Writer
Published February 16, 2012

One does not simply launch an Internet phenomenon in a matter of weeks ... unless one is LSA freshman Alex Lee, creator of UMich Memes. The increasingly popular Facebook page — and source of an endless stream of procrastination-friendly, University-meets-pop-culture references — has taken the Internet (and the classroom) by storm, prompting the launch of the interactive college meme-base CampusMemes.com.

As a frostbitten “Man vs. Wild” star Bear Grylls desperately gazes into the arctic tundra, he’s framed by a caption many can relate to — as long as those many wear Maize and Blue. “CTools is down,” the meme reads. “Better drink my own piss.” Since its launch on Feb. 3 UMich Memes has been driven by the shared frustrations and obsessions (hello, Denard) of fellow Wolverines.

Lee spent his first semester at the University interning for Saif Altimimi, co-founder of the note-sharing platform NoteWagon. Due to the high caliber of Lee’s work, Altimimi approached Lee this semester about expanding his company into the U.S., initiating the cyber craze. According to Lee, Altimimi had already amassed a following of students to generate meme pages for universities across Canada.

“He approached me to make (a page) for the University of Michigan … so I was a moderator for our page and it kind of spread out to make meme pages across the nation,” Lee said.

Soon after the creation of UMich Memes, its popularity soared, eventually resulting in the creation of the company Campus Memes, of which Lee is a co-founder.

“For Michigan, I make the memes. I would have a contact with the school and I would ask them to make a couple memes first and then invite everybody,” Lee added. “Then … it kind of blew up from there and started getting all the (Facebook) ‘likes.’ Once you have about 500 people, it kind of spirals from there, and then people start making their own memes.”

Students are encouraged to submit their own memes through the UMich Memes Facebook page, e-mail or CampusMemes.com, an expansive collection of nationwide college memes. Launched on Feb. 7, CampusMemes is reported to have registered 30,000 users within the first 10 minutes of its launch. The website is a collaboration between Altimimi, Lee, web designer Cheryl Wu and developer Charles Cary of GREEDYTREES.com.

“(The overwhelming amount of users) shut down our servers … then obviously we got noticed because a lot of people were using it, and we got attacked by 4chan. … They started uploading gore and porn all over the website (and) all over the Facebook pages, so we actually have, as of now, a manual moderating system,” Lee said. “Any meme that wants to get on the website, we moderate it.”

In an effort to further moderate and filter submissions, CampusMemes.com allows users to rank each meme, awarding a grade of “pass” or “fail.”

“One of the reasons why people are getting angry and annoyed with the whole meme situation is because we make memes mainstream, but people don’t understand how to use them right and it’s just not good,” Lee said. “Our website fixes that with the downloading system, but it’s still really annoying … my number one piece of advice would be to know the meme. Understand the meme.”

But for Lee, the site’s popularity stems not from the Internet meme itself, but its personal connection with students.

“It’s like a revolution,” Lee said. “The whole process to get something viral is that you need to create something that has value. The whole point is that it connects with people on a personal level. To be able to create something that affects you on a personal level and that you can understand … that’s really the important thing.”