Vassar Memes takes it too far with direct personal attacks

Look, I love a shitpost as much as the next guy. There’s something truly medicinal about gazing directly into the absurdity we face on a day-to-day basis and, well, having a good chuckle at it. With regard to campus life, this is the exact sort of cathartic release provided by @vassar_ memes. The Instagram page made its first post in March 2018 and has consistently produced sardonic and relatable content ever since. The anonymous entity behind the account has made posts commenting on relatable aspects of the Vassar experience, ranging from the niceties of Dollar Beer Night to the jovial enthusiasm of the Russian Department to the divide between athletic and non-athletic subcommunities. Whereas the page began with a series of posts regarding systems, social conditions and geospatial jibes, it’s taken a turn towards increasingly personal jabs at specific archetypes of the stereotypical Vassar student. 

That is, early posts discussed events or vague friend groups on campus. More recently, the shit’s been getting personal. And because Vassar is too small of a campus for jabs at specific individuals to land without immediate social consequence, Vassar Memes’ attacks are a problem. 

I’m all for a good roast if it’s targeting clout-chasers, hype-beasts or anyone generally riding the social wave without having anything substantive to contribute to it. This sort of dynamic is put on display in Vassar Memes’ controversial Sept. 14 post. The image displays students posing around Pi’erre–the star of this year’s Fall Concert—with particularly biting captions inserted near several students’ faces. Moreover, I was discomforted by some of the imagery surrounding the Pi’erre appearance, with a Black man being surrounded by a mostly white crowd. In that sense, the Fall Concert was emblematic of what Vassar really is: privileged folk trying to surround themselves with symbols they identify as “woke” or of the minority, and congratulating themselves afterwards. 

However, on a campus with fewer than 3,000 students, something feels wrong about the image, especially when critical captions are in close proximity to the students whom the jabs are probably applied to. We still see hints of the good ol’ disestablishmentarian Vassar Memes— epithets like “groupthink,” “performative activism” and “nepotism” tackle generational phenomena plaguing student bodies at schools like Vassar and others existing at the various nexuses of privilege. Plus, these are problems larger than the individuals sorority-squatting around their token Black performer. That all being said, personal digs like “C-List Celebrity Parents,” “Acting Fake” and “Secretly Hating All ur Friends” detract from productive criticism of the social elite on campus. 

There’s an angle here which argues something like this: Vassar Memes shouldn’t have publicized content like its Sept. 14 post, because it was personally derisive and linked particular students to serious phenomena plaguing society. Moreover, nobody benefits from weak insults about “Badly Bleached Hair”—on this campus, we support your right to have a midlife crisis once a semester, poor fashion choices be damned. Moreover, there’s a case to make for refraining from criticizing personal decisions which cannot so easily be reversed. As much as I’m sure your everyday student’s mediocre stick-and-poke was posted on Instagram for clout, there’s nothing to accomplish by haphazardly throwing that into a meme alongside other more serious allegations. 

Honestly, that’s not even the reason we should be taking issue with Vassar Memes’ blunder. If you’re upset you’ve been called out for benefitting from nepotism and performative activism, good! That’s an obnoxious series of actions which warrants a corresponding public critique. 

However, the problem here is that this sort of content does not scale with the size of our student population. There’s a reason that meme pages and similar social media outlets are well-received at large universities. It’s easy to facilitate the production of relevant content—pertaining to a sufficient number of people on campus—without having to resort to personal targeting. While Vassar differs from, say, Alabama, when it comes to social norms, there’s a reason an anonymous memester in Tuscaloosa can manage a page with over 72,100 followers (seriously). Then there are the numerous pages like Barstool, which have unique accounts for colleges and universities across the country. For better or for worse, these pages post content about many of the same topics Vassar Memes tries to address: commentary on daily living, criticisms of archetype groups and goofy criticism of institutions and systems on their respective campuses. 

The problem is that Vassar does not have a populace sufficient to maintain this sort of social media presence. That is, on a campus around the size of Harvard, for example, it would be feasible to post a photo of students posing around a visitor decorated with personal criticisms. This is because on a campus of almost 23,000 students, each meme would be representative of a much larger group, instead of merely constituting most of that group itself. 

The moral impetus to run such a page anonymously is also different. I’ve said it before about the Disorientation Guides, and I’ll say it again about Vassar Memes: It is impossible to produce meaningful content while remaining anonymous (Miscellany News, “Vassar Disorientation Guide authors are cowards,” 09.15.2019). There are enough students with the courage and moral standing to make arguments without being too weak to actually reveal themselves. When you write anonymously, you divorce yourself from the consequences of your work. In this enclosed (albeit bourgeois) economy of ideas, there comes a point where we ought to be skeptical of any content produced from murky sources. 

Admittedly, I still struggle with the morals of meme page anonymity. As a meme enthusiast myself, that question really keeps me up at night as I’m scrolling through memes, so I’ll table it for now. The issue at hand is that, at Vassar, we dwell in a small social circle in which calling people out by name and by photo carries serious ramifications. I still stand in resolute favor of exposing the beneficiaries of systemic injustices like nepotism and wealth inequality. I have no issue with a meme page taking on bigger topics that influence our daily lives. However, the public and personal criticism of students based on their fashion choices or parents’ acting careers is nothing but ill-advised, rudimentary browbeating. The act approaches even nearer to the realm of cyberbullying when the subjects are in a photograph, directly next to the domineering labels likely applied to them. 

Do your thing, clout-chasers. There are myriad ways we can criticize people, but one of Vassar Memes’ latest approaches isn’t one of them. Save those conversations for your Deece table gossiping. 

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