What Do You Meme? An Evening About Memes and Mental Health

On Thursday the 24th of February 2022, a few people gathered in the beautiful building that is Felix Meritis, situated on the Keizersgracht in Amsterdam, to sit down and talk about memes and their impact (or non-impact) on mental health. Some were sitting on stage—as was yours truly—while others sat in the audience, ready to give their opinion about certain dilemmas. If you see a friend or acquaintance post a lot of dark, upsetting, maybe even suicidal memes, do you just ignore it, or do you call them to see if they’re alright? What do memes really say about our state of mind? Does a meme’r posting ‘When I clean my room so good the only trash left is me’ automatically mean that this person is, in fact, feeling like garbage you wouldn’t even pick off the floor?

Speakers of the evening were Hanan Haddouch (psychologist), Jules de Keiser (teacher, not-self-proclaimed meme king), Süeda Isik (meme editor for the Dutch newspaper NRC), again yours truly, and moderator Rowan Blijd (presenter for KRO-NCRV). They quickly discovered that no one still picks up the phone really, so texting became the next best thing, and that the best way to know if someone’s not doing well is still to know them outside of their online persona. Next to this, it was stated that self-diagnosis is a dangerous game, that we’re all living through a collective burn-out, and that due to these large-scale, depressing as shit times we live in the trends in meme culture darkened over the past three years. Oh and also that the meme admins, next to the rest of the world population, were mostly sitting at home, in lockdown, being bored, depressed, anti-social, thus making memes about ‘needing therapy’ and ‘taking a break from my mental health to focus on my career’. 

As the evening progressed, everyone started laughing a bit more, became a bit cuter, softened. Yes, the world has been in a permanent state of crisis for years now (and still is, one need only to look at Ukraine) but at least making and sharing memes can elevate some of the anxiety, can let the air in. Can make us breathe again through laughter.

And me? I got to read some meme poems (published previously in the INC Critical Meme Reader 2021, available for free here) and present a little introduction into meme culture, Memes 1.0 if you will. Find below a couple of slides of said presentation—may it please you greatly—plus some atmospheric photos, including all of us looking pink-faced and happy.


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