Meet the Lancaster student who did her diss on memes
If 2020 wasn’t enough of a meme
We’re currently locked indoors with only our phones to turn to as we waste away our days staring at our screens. Those of us who were fortunate enough to not have summer exams have been struggling to make the most of our free time. There’s literally nothing better to do other than play Animal Crossing and spend the entirety of lockdown scrolling aimlessly through memes.
But alas, we have discovered that a Lancaster student has in fact given memes a whole new meaning as she wrote her dissertation on them, once again proving their cultural importance. Media and Cultural Studies student Letizia Drago completed her 8,000-word dissertation on “What are the effects that memes about substance abuse on the Instagram account @dankrecovery have on individuals who struggle/have struggled with addiction?” Naturally, she got a First! So, we decided to ask what on earth was this dissertation actually all about, and how can we make our dissertations just as cool?
Why did you decide to specialise in memes?
“Memes are a big part of the content I follow on social media, they are incredibly ubiquitous – I don’t know a single person that doesn’t enjoy them. I asked myself if there is more to memes than just entertainment, as people are now starting to use them for marketing, activism and some have even speculated as a tool to influence politics. I wanted to rethink memes from a form of entertainment to a tool through which people communicate, express themselves and their experiences beyond the five seconds it takes to look at a meme and move onto the next post.”
How did people react when you told them?
“People were definitely surprised, it’s not quite a topic that you’d imagine being discussed academically. What’s really funny is that when I told my course mates they didn’t even flinch, the department undoubtedly gets the craziest dissertation titles, but in the best way possible.”
How did your supervisor react when you told them you wanted to write about memes?
“My supervisor was super excited! She was a lecturer of mine for the past three years, amongst other things she also taught meme theory so she was very supportive.”
How did you go about researching your topic?
*For a bit of context: @dankrecovery is an Instagram page that posts memes about drug abuse and addiction recovery*
“I started off by following the page last June and kind of sat back and looked at their memes among my usual social media content for the whole summer. Once back at uni, I conducted content analysis on 20 memes from the page and then I interviewed followers of the page who were currently or had struggled with substance abuse. That in itself required a lot of preparation because while we might consider memes a relatively light topic, addiction recovery memes touch upon very delicate subjects despite their playful nature. I wanted to have a discussion in the most respectful and informed way possible.”
Why did you decide to focus your dissertation on substance abuse and the @dankrecovery Instagram account?
“In the early days of deciding my dissertation topic I remember seeing an article reporting that the admin of @dankrecovery was getting a lot of messages from followers in recovery who were thanking him because his memes were helping them stay in recovery. His memes were the furthest thing from overtly inspiring sunshine and unicorns, they were irreverent, explicit, and very dark.
“Lots of community outsiders found them highly offensive which made it all the more interesting that people who were recovering from substance abuse found them helpful. This caught my interest so I decided to make it the aim of my dissertation to dig deeper.”
Are you bored of memes now?
“People often say that whatever topic you decide for your dissertation you end up hating it, but luckily that wasn’t the case for me. I still enjoy memes and find them funny – although now I pay a lot more attention, for example, at the community that emerges from meme accounts, the discussions in the comment sections and so on. Because while something might be simply funny (or offensive) to me, it might voice someone’s thoughts and experiences and open up conversations that may not happen elsewhere.”
Do you have a favourite meme?
“If I am completely honest, as someone who has never struggled with addiction, I feel a bit bad when I laugh at some of @dankrecovery’s memes. However, my interviewees explained that the aim of the account and what it does is to laugh with them not at them, so they do not see anything wrong with other people finding these memes funny. Having said that, my favourite from the page is probably this. “As for favourite meme of all time, I would say anything with Baby Yoda on it!”
Here are some of the memes that Letizia used in her dissertation:
No wonder she got a first! Truly an outstanding piece of research. We bow down to you and are inspired by your unorthodox creativity to make our dissertations just as trendy and exciting.