Man Behind the Meme

Memes have overtaken the Internet at an astonishing pace and Duke students are privy to this phenomenon. Will Ye, creator of “Duke Memes for Gothicc Teens,” sheds light on the process of creating memes and the universal appeal behind them.

Competitive universities across the country increasingly share one common denominator: Facebook meme groups. These groups boast thousands of followers, with “UC Berkeley Memes for Edgy Teens” possessing over 115,000 members, surpassing the number of the school’s fall enrollment for graduate and undergraduate students. College-specific memes emerged out of the larger Internet meme culture, and serve to chronicle student life and create a sense of common culture amongst students.

Duke University lacked a legitimate meme page until Will Ye, along with Yoon Ko and Molly Chen, established one. The class of 2020 computer science major joined “Duke Memes for Gothicc Teens” during December of his freshman year, with the goal of radically expanding and improving the group. From the start, Ye recognized the importance of relatability in generating humorous content.

“The more relatable the meme is, the more familiar it is,” Ye said. “It feels more authentic.”

Ye’s first post, which mocked the fallibility of Duke Wi-Fi, represented the group’s first Duke-specific meme and led to a significant influx of new members.   

“They’re all so good. It’s like picking a favorite child.”

As the group’s membership increased, so too did Ye’s celebrity status on campus. Students regularly approach him despite his effort to maintain anonymity and remain under the radar.

“If I introduce myself to new people, a lot of the time they pause and go, ‘are you the meme guy?’”

Unsurprisingly, Ye’s memes consistently receive more likes than those of other students.

“I could post the same meme as someone else and [theirs] would receive fewer likes only because they’re not as well known,” Ye said. “There are a lot of good memes that other people post that are underappreciated.”

While any Duke student can share memes in the Facebook group, Ye remains diligent in moderating content. He insists on the memes being specific to Duke students and is unafraid to call individuals out for unoriginality. Recently, his criticism of another student’s meme became a meme in itself.

“Memes are relatable, really relatable.”

Ye is a tough critic of his own work as well. He consistently relies on other group monitors to critique his memes before publicizing them. As a result, he has an entire album of unreleased content on his computer.

“I’ll keep it in my hard drive and chuckle to myself.”

Looking at all his memes, Ye said he can’t choose a favorite.

“They’re all so good. It’s like picking a favorite child.”

Ye offered insight on the appeal of memes, which have rapidly overtaken the Internet in the last decade. Social media platforms increasingly consist of the circulation and distribution of memes. 

“Memes are relatable, really relatable.”

College-centric memes specifically serve as a vehicle through which students can unite behind shared experiences, common grievances, and cultural symbols. One of Ye’s memes, for example, features an image of a long, winding line of people beneath the caption “Duke students waiting to receive their packages from Bryan Center.” Another meme features an image of the Duke University Textbook Store accompanied by the tagline “Top 10 Biggest Scams of All Time.” These memes function as inside jokes amongst Duke students – poking fun at the interminable process of picking up a package from the Bryan Center or the absurd price of textbooks at the University Store.

“Profits could definitely be used toward charity or club funding…that’s something I’m definitely playing with for the next steps with the meme group.”

In the last few years, individuals in academic circles have begun to decipher the universal appeal and viral nature of memes. Ye and his friend James actually offered a course on the “theory of memes” at Duke Splash this past summer, where they dissected “what makes a meme funny.” Ye explained that the success of a meme depends on effectively connecting an image or “recurrent template” to a funny, relatable, and accessible message.

While the idea is still in its infancy, Ye mentioned the possibility of using “Duke Memes for Gothicc Teens” as a platform for social good.

“Someone proposed creating Duke meme merchandise…it’s a good opportunity but I don’t want to profit off of this,” Ye said.

Nevertheless, he sees the potential of using the site and its capacity for outreach as a means of enacting change on campus.  

“Profits could definitely be used toward charity or club funding…that’s something I’m definitely playing with for the next steps with the meme group.”


Writer: Margo Gray

Editors: Diana Joseph and Sofia Velasquez Soler

Graphic: Diana Joseph

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