It’s Jan. 1, 2016. It’s a new year, and you’re at once overwhelmed and hopeful. This is a year of new beginnings, infinite possibilities.
Some of us resolved to lose the weight, to eat healthier. Maybe we promised to spend more time with our family, or to do better in school. Maybe we didn’t make any promises and just hoped that things would be different. They’d be better. We resolved to change.
Change we did.
This year, we lost geniuses, artists, leaders. We lost David Bowie and Prince. We lost Mohammed Ali and Gene Wilder.
This year, we witnessed immense tragedies. We watched as refugees scrambled onto the beaches of Greece. We looked into the eyes of shell-shocked children in Aleppo.
This year, we took action against injustice. We marched in the streets for Philando Castile and Black Lives Matter. We stood with Standing Rock and proclaimed #NoDAPL.
This year we found laughter in darkness. We created dank memes and watched kids and grandmothers juju on that beat.
This year, we were divided. We said no to the European Union and #Brexit-ed. We blocked family and friends on Facebook and were #WithHer or decided to Make America Great Again.
If I’ve learned anything from this year, from these events, from the tragedies and the successes, I’ve learned that my generation — the millennials — lived this year online more so than ever before.
We processed these changes through Facebook shares and sentimental Instagram posts. We checked in at Standing Rock to show solidarity and watched a live stream of a man being killed by police. Our experiences were shaped by the influence of social media and smartphone technology, for better or for worse. We pushed aside views opposite to ours and gained information through social feeds and viral “fake news” sites.
Meme culture exploded. We eternally memorialized Harambe and dealt with the stress of the outside world by remixing media culture to express our hopelessness, our nihilism and our extreme dissatisfaction with a mainstream media cycle that ignored us. A media cycle that divided our nation, ignored our activism and sensationalized news. A cycle that created headlines that called us the “lazy generation.”
It’s true, we are the antithesis to the traditional values the generations before us worked to instill. We don’t work hard, we work smart. We take shortcuts. We create technology that does the job for us. Not because we’re unmotivated, but because despite all we’ve seen, we cling to the hope that we will progress. We hold the world at our literal fingertips in our smartphones. How do we use the limitless communicative technology that lies in the palms of our hands?
We use it to escape. Media and comedy have always intersected at pathways of multitudinous tragedy and complex change to allow the world to ignore its problems and laugh. We laughed when Kylie Jenner said this was the year of realizing things, and then we suddenly looked to her through recycled memes as the voice of our generation.
Meme culture began as a means of commenting on aspects of society that caught our attention, confused us or altered our perception of thinking, or that were just downright funny. It’s observational comedy at its purest form, remixed with niche media references and a pension for the positively odd.
In this year, memes have evolved to allow a means of accepting grief and processing change. My generation is lambasted as the one with its noses stuck to screens, oblivious to the outside world, but we’re not ignoring our surroundings, and we aren’t oblivious. We are living and communicating in a realm separate from one that has ignored our input.
Everyone I know is having an identity crisis. It’s cliché. We’re young college students at a liberal university, and the world will always turn and will always undergo change. But to us, this year feels different.
USA Today’s voting poll claimed that 68 percent of millennial voters voted for Hillary Clinton. A British YouGov poll found that 75 percent of millennials voted against Britain leaving the EU. A Harvard University poll found that 55 percent of millennials believed that climate change was real and that it was our fault.
A quick look at the numbers defines our loss. We will be dealing with the results of elections and governmental decisions for years to come. We cling to the hope that there will even be an environment to protect by the time we can address change.
My generation is just as divided as this nation and more diverse than the hypothetical young people I’m addressing. We are in no way perfect, but this year, we have been ignored.
I can only speak to my personal experience, and as a student at UC Berkeley, I have seen the fading hope in the faces of my peers. Our once-heightened regard and positive attitude toward our government and the media has withered down to an apathetic acceptance of our state. The internet is our way to escape the political arguments aimed more toward our parents. We speak through endless memes, likes and shares, and invest in a screen that listens and responds.
This year didn’t bring only unsettling change. There were victories.
While these victories may be overshadowed by the bad, that doesn’t mean we can’t use light to overcome the darkness that has clouded our retrospect. 2016 was rough. My generation may be confused and may turn to screens to find answers — or at the very to least escape the less favorable solutions — but we are present.
On Jan. 1, 2017, it will be a new year. You’ll be at once overwhelmed and hopeful. There will be infinite possibilities, and we will make change for the better. Hopefully the meme game is just as strong.
Contact Elaina Provencio at [email protected].