It’s like I’m sitting in a circle with a group of people, and we’re casually talking about midterms. Everyone’s laughing and having a good time.
“Hey,” someone says with a wide smile to the circle. “I have crippling depression!” We all laugh.
“Haha, oh man. I swear, whenever there’s a UCPD warning, I’m out the door. Like, just take me already.”
What a relatable and funny joke! I’d expect nothing less from UC Berkeley Memes for Edgy Teens.
The density of casual mentions to suffering, sadness and suicide on the memes page is a reflection of what seems to be a general student mentality. It’s something that we don’t see at all when going through our UC Berkeley days and our orientations and our welcome events, because it’s not a tangible element of the campus — it’s an idea that permeates the student collective consciousness. Eventually, whether it’s a joke on Facebook or a remark from a friend, we become exposed to the idea that we, as UC Berkeley students, have our own brand of suffering, and that it defines us. For better or for worse, we oftentimes begin to adopt that idea as our own.
“I have a midterm tomorrow; guess I’ll die,” we say casually, as if to say “I’m a Berkeley student; suffering is just a run-of-the-mill experience.
When looking at my life in Berkeley, I have seen myself beginning to embrace this idea. When talking to a friend who is preparing to attend UC Berkeley in the fall, I almost made a joke about how their days were numbered. It’s a normalization of something that shouldn’t be normal. I am uncomfortable with telling incoming freshmen to prepare for death or finding solidarity in collectively calling UC Berkeley a place devoid of happiness.
Our suffering isn’t an inevitability, but the way we speak of it makes it seem like it is. On one hand, it’s a way to find humor to cope with shared difficulties of the college experience. But it also constantly exposes us to ideas that encourage giving up, lying down and letting life run you over, just like the “Hit me with your car” event that 2,000 people said they attended last semester. It constantly surrounds us with a dialogue of failure and hopelessness.
I cannot speak for everyone but I know that this certainly affects me — when I hear someone making a joke about suicide, there’s no follow up. The implicit idea of success, that we can get through this, that this kind of hardship is nothing to us UC Berkeley students and that’s why we can talk about it so casually, is missing. I fill in the blank with my own feelings, reassuring myself with my own resilience and perseverance and drive, but I’m afraid that one day I might eventually run out of those feelings.
Although it is nice that UC Berkeley students get that sense of unity from bonding over shared hardships, it also feels exclusive in a way — listening to people say that their homework is killing them, and if I ask if there’s anything I can do, they give off this air of resignation.
“It’s just how it is.”
As if there’s nothing we can do to change that. As if there’s nothing anyone can do.
And if I don’t want to embrace that culture, then I’m not a part of the “in” crowd. Even though at the end of the day, everyone’s just joking, it feels like there’s an all-encompassing atmosphere that threatens to beat people down. It’s an atmosphere that we see when browsing facetious edgy memes, but it’s also one that we see in earnest — feeling like hopelessness is the norm. It’s such an ingrained part of Berkeley that I don’t know if it’s going to change anytime soon. No one posts things like “Ah, I see you are well” in lieu of “Ah, I see you are a man of culture as well.” No one puts a motion blur on a kid running to make responsible life choices and take charge of time management.
We browse the memes page, occasionally laughing, occasionally reacting, and all the while, our own perceptions of UC Berkeley culture are reinforced. Maybe after we’ve sad-reacted enough times, that becomes the only reaction we have.
Louis Lee writes the Wednesday column on what you just read. Contact them at [email protected].