I once took a University class called Foundations of Comedy. The most important lesson I learned from the class was the concept of punching up. Comedy always has a target in mind, and “punching up” describes satire which targets people or institutions that have more power than the comedian herself. To “punch down” and make jokes at the expense of less powerful groups is generally considered a baser form of comedy. It’s why “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is so funny, and why taking candy from a baby is decidedly less so.

The columbia buy sell memes page (hereafter referred to as CBSM) is one of the interesting places to watch negotiations between comedy and power play out. There are occasional posts of the “call out” variety, meant to shame certain members of the community into rethinking the way that they behave. But the most popular posts are those that are relatable to students at large. Instead of focusing on individuals, they target concepts such as academic stress, mental health problems, and unsympathetic administrators.

In this way, CBSM often “punches up,” criticizing stress culture rather than normalizing it. The humor in the aforementioned type of memes comes from recognizing the difference between the way things should be in an ideal world and the way they are. Of course it’s fucked up that so many students are sleep-deprived, mentally ill, and lack the resources to get better. But it’s also somehow comforting to know that we are not alone in our struggles.

Critics of CBSM say that students are reinforcing stress culture by incessantly posting about stressful aspects of academic life. Here’s the truth: stress culture in college has been normal for years. Before memes became a thing in in the early 2010s, people still shared complaints about university life with each other. They did it through a simple piece of technology known as the rant. Memes are just easily transmittable, comedic rants. And the fundamental nature of a rant is that it challenges the validity of its topic, rather than empowering it.

You don’t give power to an issue just by mentioning its name. We learned that from Voldemort. In fact, bringing the issue up is the first step to productively addressing it. If CBSM disappeared tomorrow, stress culture would still be as pervasive as ever. There would just be one less outlet for us to vent through.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that CBSM directly counteracts the causes of stress culture. But I would argue that it provides temporary relief from the existential nightmare that is college life and young adulthood. On the list of substances and activities college students turn to in order to relieve stress, humor is one of the healthiest. It usually doesn’t cost money and there’s no addiction or long-term health problems associated with it. It’s a fundamental coping mechanism.

Plus, CBSM is a really good reminder that our peers aren’t infallible. Many popular posts on the page are of the self-deprecating variety. Students lament their own terrible grades and lackluster love lives. One of the most insidious derivatives of stress culture is a crushing sense of insecurity. Inferiority complexes are inflamed by the myth that everyone else has it figured out. Facebook is a major contributor to this anxiety, as it is a place where we see our peers looking accomplished, healthy, and perfect. CBSM complicates that narrative, and therefore counteracts this aspect of stress culture.

At its best, CBSM actively challenges stress culture by “punching up” and undermining stress culture through satire. But not all jokes serve as scathing social critiques, and that’s okay. Humor still has value, even if it’s palliative. With CBSM in particular, many students find relief in punching sideways, and exploiting their foibles for comedic value. The technique serves as a reminder that it’s okay to be imperfect, and you can laugh at your faults rather than being consumed by them. That sounds like the opposite of stress culture to me.

I once took a University class called Foundations of Comedy. The most important lesson I learned from the class was the concept of punching up. Comedy always has a target in mind, and “punching up” describes satire which targets people or institutions that have more power than the comedian herself. To “punch down” and make jokes at the expense of less powerful groups is generally considered a baser form of comedy. It’s why “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is so funny, and why taking candy from a baby is decidedly less so.

The columbia buy sell memes page (hereafter referred to as CBSM) is one of the interesting places to watch negotiations between comedy and power play out. There are occasional posts of the “call out” variety, meant to shame certain members of the community into rethinking the way that they behave. But the most popular posts are those that are relatable to students at large. Instead of focusing on individuals, they target concepts such as academic stress, mental health problems, and unsympathetic administrators.

In this way, CBSM often “punches up,” criticizing stress culture rather than normalizing it. The humor in the aforementioned type of memes comes from recognizing the difference between the way things should be in an ideal world and the way they are. Of course it’s fucked up that so many students are sleep-deprived, mentally ill, and lack the resources to get better. But it’s also somehow comforting to know that we are not alone in our struggles.

Mimi is a junior in Columbia College studying creative writing. She likes to write opinion pieces, satire, and thinly-veiled autobiographies. Love letters can be sent to mae2160@columbia.edu.

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By MIMI EVANS
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Discourse & Debate: Buy sell memes and stress culture

Content warning: this piece contains mentions of mental illness and suicide. If you’ve scrolled through columbia buy sell memes or overheard a lively conversation on the way to class, you’ve likely picked up on the fact that much of Columbia’s humor revolves around cynicism. Nihilism is trendy. Sadness is relatable and therefore comedic. Is this humor healthy or harmful for students and the community? Does Columbia’s culture of cynical humor cultivate community or exacerbate stress culture?

Since its inception, the columbia buy sell memes page has inadvertently fostered community on a campus of hardcore individualists. In a cutthroat and rigorous university like Columbia, it is easy to feel isolated. With isolation comes sadness. After a long week of stressful classes, difficult professors, and being rejected from every single internship you’ve applied to, it is an amazing feeling to scroll through the columbia buy sells memes page and to make light of your common plights. Bonding over self-deprecating memes that poke fun at our ridiculous academic environment and stress culture has allowed students to cope with the overbearing pressures of academia.

However, we must ask ourselves to what extent these memes can lead to the normalization of suffering. When people see phrases like “I want to die” every time they scroll down their social media, it becomes part of their lexicon, which then manifests itself in their daily conversations. Students have seen the words “anxiety,” “panic attacks,” and “depression” pop up in memes so much that those words appear to have lost their weight—they have become part of our common consciousness. The normalization of these words makes it difficult for people to spot the signs of a person who is actually crying out for help.

This is not to say that these issues should not be discussed, but there is a clear difference between joking about stress culture and joking about serious mental health issues. When jokes are made about grave issues such as self-harm and suicide, one cannot help but think about the Columbia students who are unable to cope with their mental health issues or about others who do not care about the safety and comfort of their peers who struggle with mental health issues. Sadness and anguish are normal human emotions, but when a post with the caption “I want to kill myself” receives hundreds of likes, it should worry us all.

Additionally, when suffering is normalized, students may feel coerced into overworking themselves or presenting a facade of suffering for the sake of maintaining an image of the relatable struggling Columbia student.The maintenance of this façade often leads to the co-optation of the plight of people with mental health issues at the hands of people without them. Although mental health issues need to be de-stigmatized, there is a difference between the de-stigmatization and fetishization of mental health issues. Yes, people who deal with mental health issues often turn to these memes to feel like they are not alone in their suffering. However, the fleeting moment of relief that they receive does not eliminate the fact that they are in pain. It’s like spraying perfume on a smelly garbage can. No matter how many jokes people utilize to mask their pain, the pain is still there. When people who do not suffer from the debilitating symptoms of mental illnesses create or share these memes, it can also feel like a slap in the face to those who do. It essentially feels like their plights are being commodified and fetishized, especially in a society that views people with mental health issues as defective and worthless.

Mental health is a pressing issue on this campus. Just last year, at least four students took their own lives. The Columbia administration needs to be asking why these students saw ending their precious lives as the most desirable option. Could it be that their suffering is being trivialized by society? Could it be that counseling is virtually inaccessible on this campus? Could it be that suffering is so normalized on this campus that students can’t spot the signs of severe mental illness or depression? Maybe it’s the combination of all these things.

However, suffering does not have to be a norm on campus. Since the columbia buy sell memes page seems to be the communicative hub of our campus, it should be utilized to reach out to and check problematic posts. You never know whose life you’ll save by simply shooting them a message to see if their post was actually a cry for help or by challenging a problematic post and thus preventing the commodification of another human’s plight. Even though it may seem odd to reach out to a random person on a meme page, we must remember that behind the computer screen, there are human beings.

Since its inception, the columbia buy sell memes page has inadvertently fostered community on a campus of hardcore individualists. In a cutthroat and rigorous university like Columbia, it is easy to feel isolated. With isolation comes sadness. After a long week of stressful classes, difficult professors, and being rejected from every single internship you’ve applied to, it is an amazing feeling to scroll through the columbia buy sells memes page and to make light of your common plights. Bonding over self-deprecating memes that poke fun at our ridiculous academic environment and stress culture has allowed students to cope with the overbearing pressures of academia.

However, we must ask ourselves to what extent these memes can lead to the normalization of suffering. When people see phrases like “I want to die” every time they scroll down their social media, it becomes part of their lexicon, which then manifests itself in their daily conversations. Students have seen the words “anxiety,” “panic attacks,” and “depression” pop up in memes so much that those words appear to have lost their weight—they have become part of our common consciousness. The normalization of these words makes it difficult for people to spot the signs of a person who is actually crying out for help.

This is not to say that these issues should not be discussed, but there is a clear difference between joking about stress culture and joking about serious mental health issues. When jokes are made about grave issues such as self-harm and suicide, one cannot help but think about the Columbia students who are unable to cope with their mental health issues or about others who do not care about the safety and comfort of their peers who struggle with mental health issues. Sadness and anguish are normal human emotions, but when a post with the caption “I want to kill myself” receives hundreds of likes, it should worry us all.

Heven Haile is a first-year in Columbia College studying political science and African-American history. She is a first-year representative for the Black Students’ Organization and a member of the Ethiopian Eritrean Student Association. Her hobbies include blissfully listening to Frank Ocean and Solange in a dark room, destroying oppressive systems, and stanning black women on Twitter.

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By HEVEN HAILE
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Being one of those perverse students who refuses to go home during school breaks, I am naturally privy to experiences that elude the orthodox Columbian. Last winter break, this meant sharing a suite with a corpse for a span of five days. This morbid living arrangement was fully involuntary; I learned of the death in question the day investigators found the body and asked me whether I had information about the student’s demise.

I had previously explained the unvarying silence of my suite with the inference that all other residents must have returned home for the holiday season. But now an element of acute tragedy was involved: A student at one of the nation’s premier universities had departed the world, leaving behind a no-doubt grieving family just in time for Christmas. Yet despite these grim circumstances, the sound I most clearly recall hearing that day, emanating both from the investigators who arrived in the afternoon and from the police that remained until past midnight, was that of laughter.

Some may take exception to this light-hearted attitude. But they would be mistaken; surely it is no more than a method of remaining stable while doing a job whose concomitant is a generous degree of chaos. The example of the NYPD, as I will demonstrate, is also substantially parallel to the campus culture of dark humor under examination.

Death and laughter go together because the permanence of the former necessitates that of the latter: We will always die, and so we must always laugh. Without this flippancy, life would be a burden of sorrow, and death would thus become a welcome change. Similarly, stress culture is not something that can simply be done away with; a demanding academic milieu prevails by necessity at an Ivy League school. We chose Columbia, largely understanding that the stress produced by vast workloads and robust competition would be required to fulfill our outsize aspirations. To allay this ineradicable stress, we joke, a truth most saliently reflected in the columbia buy sell memes Facebook group. There, students regularly turn potentially angst-inducing subjects into comedic material. In doing so, they laugh at situations that could be reacted to with less positive emotions, such as anger or sadness. Like the macabre hilarity of the NYPD, our campus humor confronts potential sources of damaging attitudes and treats them instead as a cause for levity.

Though its virtues are manifest, our culture of humor is not beyond reproof. In distinguishing good critiques from bad ones, we ought to ask whether the critique emphasizes the harm that a joke can have on those who are in on it, or the harm that it can have on others. The latter should be thoughtfully considered, the former thoughtfully rejected. Bullying through comedy is obviously reprehensible, and the harm that can result inadvertently from attempts at humor are likewise to be deplored. If someone cautions you against facetiously contemplating suicide on social media, for instance, reasoning that others who have genuinely weighed committing the act may be offended by your jocular treatment of it, then you should take this admonishment seriously. Certain jokes should be made only among familiar audiences whose reaction we can predict with reasonable accuracy, simply because the dictates of grace adjure doing so.

Weaker critiques attempt to show that joking about serious matters may inure us to them. Of course it is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition to remain flinty-faced about an issue in order to take it seriously, as one can gather from observing people in general and from reading representative John Lewis recount Martin Luther King Jr.’s tendency to jest. Many students surely are complacent about matters which they poke fun at, but inserting a causal link here seems wholly unjustified. Making light of weighty issues is a mentally nutritious thing to do, and purposeful consciousness of an issue is not likely to be induced by glowering at laughing students.

Being one of those perverse students who refuses to go home during school breaks, I am naturally privy to experiences that elude the orthodox Columbian. Last winter break, this meant sharing a suite with a corpse for a span of five days. This morbid living arrangement was fully involuntary; I learned of the death in question the day investigators found the body and asked me whether I had information about the student’s demise.

I had previously explained the unvarying silence of my suite with the inference that all other residents must have returned home for the holiday season. But now an element of acute tragedy was involved: A student at one of the nation’s premier universities had departed the world, leaving behind a no-doubt grieving family just in time for Christmas. Yet despite these grim circumstances, the sound I most clearly recall hearing that day, emanating both from the investigators who arrived in the afternoon and from the police that remained until past midnight, was that of laughter.

Shane Brasil-Wadsworth is a junior in Columbia College. He is studying philosophy and history and hopes that his funeral will be no less than a risorial tumult. Please email him at sb4056@columbia.edu to discuss his writing.

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By SHANE BRASIL-WADSWORTH

I love Nietzsche as much as the next angsty young adult attempting to grasp at their place in a cruel, uncaring world. I follow Nihilist Arby’s on Twitter purely for its absurd application of very dark subject matter. And, yes, I have spent hours perusing columbia buy sell memes, tagging friends in posts that can only suitably be described as “big moods.”

Columbia buy sell memes has quickly transitioned from a page primarily for cheeky musings about the Core Curriculum and the University’s superiority to other Ivy League schools into a virtual platform for the defeatist lamentations of the student body. With the emergence of this newfound, unadulterated glance into the “dark side” of Columbia, the page seems to encourage unnecessarily despondent—and sometimes offensive—content under the guise of humor. The prevalence of this trend may provide us with a few laughs and endless relatable posts in which to tag our friends, but ultimately perpetuates the same issues that the memes satirize.

On a campus that struggles so vocally with mental health, we Columbia students have adopted the humor seen on columbia buy sell memes as a coping mechanism for the stress and mental illnesses from which many of us suffer. And some of these cynical memes are funny—hilarious, even—but for a university characterized for its stress culture and recent statistically-abnormal wave of mental health crises, the page’s comical tone contributes to the trivialization of these experiences while normalizing the negativity that pervades this campus. As this particular brand of humor only continues to grow in popularity, one can’t help but speculate that columbia buy sell memes is a deflection from a campus-wide discussion on how to combat the ills of this university.

Social media forums like columbia buy sell memes provide convenient access to other seemingly like-minded students, and, as a result, generate a sense of far-reaching community. However, by virtue of these interactions existing solely online (and on a meme page), they are typically limited to “haha” reacts and absent-minded comments on posts that soon disappear among the hundreds of others that crowd our news feeds, never to be acknowledged again. And though columbia buy sell memes affords students camaraderie through the expression of young adulthood’s many woes, this virtual community predicated on the passive consumption of trivialized suffering adversely manifests offline and onto campus.

The flawed communication and representation of our university is not entirely the fault of columbia buy sell memes, however. Social media in general serves as an avenue where an outspoken few—regardless of their message—may seek validation, while the rest of the masses spectate out of pure amusement (or masochism), protected by our electronic screens and the knowledge that, if something should be said, thousands of others could step in. The instant validation and bystander aspects of social media is what makes the cynicism of columbia buy sell memes all the more troubling. The false security of social media renders students silent when it should embolden them to confront the issues head-on, in doing so possibly motivating the “thousands of others” to do the same.

We must acknowledge that the sentiments expressed on columbia buy sell memes were not conceived in a vacuum, nor do they exist solely in the virtual realm. The memes allude to the actual struggles of students on this campus. And while columbia buy sell memes did not create any of the issues discussed, it does condone their trivialization and ultimately perpetuates their prevalence. Students who do use their humor as a way to confront the greater issues should instead translate that concern into real-life, proactive discussion to address the sources of dysphoria that seem to sustain the popularity of these memes.

I love Nietzsche as much as the next angsty young adult attempting to grasp at their place in a cruel, uncaring world. I follow Nihilist Arby’s on Twitter purely for its absurd application of very dark subject matter. And, yes, I have spent hours perusing columbia buy sell memes, tagging friends in posts that can only suitably be described as “big moods.”

Columbia buy sell memes has quickly transitioned from a page primarily for cheeky musings about the Core Curriculum and the University’s superiority to other Ivy League schools into a virtual platform for the defeatist lamentations of the student body. With the emergence of this newfound, unadulterated glance into the “dark side” of Columbia, the page seems to encourage unnecessarily despondent—and sometimes offensive—content under the guise of humor. The prevalence of this trend may provide us with a few laughs and endless relatable posts in which to tag our friends, but ultimately perpetuates the same issues that the memes satirize.

Avah Toomer is a sophomore in Columbia College majoring in medicine, literature, and society and concentrating in Francophone studies. She has been a member of columbia buy sell memes since its inception but has since tired of its brand of humor and regurgitated content, preferring to get her laughs from Twitter instead. That being said, follow her on Twitter @avahtoomer if you’re into poorly shrouded solipsism or add her on Facebook if you want to be tagged in questionably “dank” memes.

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By AVAH TOOMER

A meme page isn’t a solution to the mental health issues that can accompany the tremendous pressure that many students at Columbia feel inundated by. But I contend that jokes that make light of the difficulty of our situation are not a bad thing. Obviously, a joke that goes too far—one mocking or attacking those who suffer from serious mental health issues, for example—is harmful. Yet from my experience on columbia buy sell memes, this is not the nature of the jokes that make light of the stress we experience. I believe that many of buy sell’s jokes can actually be uplifting and beneficial for our Columbia community.

For the sake of analogy, I ask: why do we listen to sad music when we are already feeling despondent? Is it simply to intensify our sadness? I would argue otherwise. Paradoxically, when we feel sadness, turning to a medium that is also sad can be a means of catharsis. Instead of bottling up our strong emotions, we can express them through a medium that resonates with our feelings in that moment. When we watch tragic movies, we are not torturing ourselves. Rather, we are externalizing and purging our repressed feelings by consuming content that depicts the same feelings.

I believe that columbia buy sell memes provides a similar outlet for some of our other emotions. A great deal of stress accompanies the prestigious education we have chosen. One of the most pernicious tendencies, at the times when the pressure seems too much to bear, is to go through it alone. When we do not communicate with others who are dealing with circumstances similar to ours, we can feel isolated. Buy sell provides an open space where we can find relatable content that lets us know that we are not alone in our struggles.

While the columbia buy sell memes content can’t usually be characterized as incisive satire, its humor can function as an effective critique of some campus-wide issues. When the Berick Center for Student Advising posted its ill-conceived “time management calculator,” students flocked to buy sell to express their dissatisfaction. The calculator, far from actually assisting students in managing their schedules, was simply a pedantic, insulting, and profoundly unhelpful guide. Many students used buy sell to mock this laughable guide, which might have even provoked some students to complain directly to administrators, who promptly removed the calculator. This ordeal highlighted the need for effective dialogue between students regarding mental health and time management issues.

Comedy works by pushing the envelope, and this means that some jokes about mental health may end up hurting people suffering from psychological illness. However, jokes that go too far should, and generally do, receive fewer likes and many comments, informing the poster that their joke has drifted from funny to offensive. But where the line should be drawn is inherently subjective, and some people will inevitably be hurt by well-intentioned yet distasteful jokes. However, for every questionable post, I see dozens more that, while often cynical, are benign and palatable for everyone.

Obviously, memes cannot be our primary emotional and psychological support system. Nor can buy sell be the only forum for Columbia students to conduct the much-needed conversation about stress and mental health. Columbia students dealing with serious mental health issues, such as clinical anxiety and depression, should not find their only avenue for discussion of mental health issues to be a meme page.

Nevertheless, a cathartic laugh is often invaluable for relieving generic stress. A post that sardonically laments the feeling of having three papers and two midterms within the span of four days may receive hundreds of likes. Why is this? Clearly, it is because we resonate with it. We all know exactly what facing a seemingly impenetrable wall of work is like. We’re Columbia students. We’re the most sleep-deprived college students in the nation. The phrase “Columbia education” and the word “stress” are practically synonyms. Buy sell is a manifestation of the emotions many of us already feel. We are not the only ones who, at times, feel a bit cynical about our state, nor are we outliers, alone in our struggles. Something as simple as a meme can allow us to find camaraderie through commiseration.

A meme page isn’t a solution to the mental health issues that can accompany the tremendous pressure that many students at Columbia feel inundated by. But I contend that jokes that make light of the difficulty of our situation are not a bad thing. Obviously, a joke that goes too far—one mocking or attacking those who suffer from serious mental health issues, for example—is harmful. Yet from my experience on columbia buy sell memes, this is not the nature of the jokes that make light of the stress we experience. I believe that many of buy sell’s jokes can actually be uplifting and beneficial for our Columbia community.

For the sake of analogy, I ask: why do we listen to sad music when we are already feeling despondent? Is it simply to intensify our sadness? I would argue otherwise. Paradoxically, when we feel sadness, turning to a medium that is also sad can be a means of catharsis. Instead of bottling up our strong emotions, we can express them through a medium that resonates with our feelings in that moment. When we watch tragic movies, we are not torturing ourselves. Rather, we are externalizing and purging our repressed feelings by consuming content that depicts the same feelings.

Ethan is a sophomore studying philosophy and economics. His hobbies include stamp collecting, reading magical realist literature, and contracting the illness his roomate had last week. Feel free to reach out to him at ehh2133@columbia.edu with your vehement disagreement or extolling praise.

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By ETHAN HASTINGS

To respond to this installment of Discourse & Debate, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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