Where do we find creative communities at Tufts? Perhaps our first instinct is to begin our search in physical space: Tufts has dozens of performance groups, ensembles and unique publications, as well as an Arts Haus and a Crafts House. There’s also the SMFA, art studios in Lane Hall, the Crafts Center and the Tufts Art Gallery. While this approach yields a vast number of artistic options, it misses a critical demographic: the Tufts communities that are not visible in our physical environment, but rather exist in our virtual world — not ‘at Tufts,’ but ‘of Tufts.’ Perhaps to gain a more holistic understanding of Tufts’ creative ecosystem, it’s necessary to consider these groups and their functions within campus social life.
So let’s dig in, and why not start with one of the biggest? “Tufts Memes for Quirky Queens” is a Facebook group presently consisting of nearly 4,300 members (and counting) and is open to any Tufts student (pending confirmation by a group admin). In this group, members post visual media with comical captions relating to college life. New content tends to appear on the page every few hours, streaming into members’ news feeds. While the group’s description requests that members post “OC” for original content, some posts are entirely produced by their creators while others borrow elements from popular online memes. Of course, regardless of content, the meme formula is present within each — a simple display of visual media, accompanied by stark black or white text and an ironically sloppy DIY aesthetic (think bad Photoshop meets Microsoft Office Word Art circa 2004).
Despite references to general meme culture, overall references on this page remain specific to life at Tufts — rejection from Brown, stir fry night at Carm, controversy over Greek life, Tony Monaco, etc. The essential impulse is not to offer nuances to the collective Tufts experience by sharing a unique perspective but rather to surface the latent, universal aspects of life at Tufts by hyperbolizing them. Comment, like, tag your friends; each post demands its own critique, allowing space for viewers to react.
The act of relying on popular metaphors to articulate one’s personal experience is not a novel concept; it’s something we do often in everyday conversation. As social creatures, we are constantly borrowing from a cultural ‘commons’ of linguistic devices — expressions, proverbs and clichés — to express ourselves and relate to one another.
“Tufts Memes” operates through exactly these means of appropriation, only in multiple systems — incorporating borrowed tropes from internet culture, Tufts culture, pop culture and the collective experiences of students in general. That said, perhaps the reason we so often neglect to mention meme communities when discussing arts-related groups on campus is not that they are not always visible to us, but rather that they are hidden in plain sight. They fit easily into our daily lives, drifting by on our newsfeeds, chiming into our ongoing internal monologues and aligning too closely with our identities as Tufts students to be examined objectively like the works we encounter in the physical world.
So, what does it mean when we post, look, like and share? What kind of art world might we be creating?
-Ella Huzenis, Polykhroma