Scott Berson, Editor-in-Chief, The Saber
The robo-calls began at noon, but nobody knew where the man with the gun had gone. Police rushed towards the freshman dorm where someone had allegedly been seen carrying a firearm around the building. Students locked themselves in their rooms, and frantic texts flooded in from worried parents and friends.
A few hours later, police completed their sweep. Whoever it was, if there was anyone at all, was long gone. People resumed their studies, students went back to their rooms, and everyone relaxed. The incident was over.
Then, they waited for Cougar Memes to drop some dank posts about it.
The Cougar Memes page is one of hundreds of school-themed meme pages that have sprung up on Facebook in the last few years. Georgia College has one. So do UGA and Yale. Some Columbus State Professors follow Cougar Memes. The official CSU Facebook page follows Cougar Memes (and actively participates in the comments). It’s kind of a big deal.
Josh Staples is an amiable, bearded fellow, quick with a laugh and a story. He’s a senior computer science major and the current president of Young Americans for Liberty, a student political club that discusses libertarian issues.
He’s also the founder and administrator of Cougar Memes.
“I guess I started it roughly around the beginning of fall semester last year. You may not recall, but parking was a complete nightmare,” he recalled. “I wasn’t sure where I was going to go with it. I just had one meme when I started, and I couldn’t have imagined how far it was going to go. That was the one where it was a completely jam-packed parking lot, and it said ‘Columbus State be like ‘no parking problem.’”
Indeed. The Great Parking Crisis of early 2015 was the dominant topic of discussion around campus for several months. Staples’s meme was his attempt to tap into that frustration in a humorous way. “It was how I felt, and at that time I was kind of scared of retribution. [That’s why] I started Cougar Memes, to anonymously post memes making fun of the school.”
That original post blazed through social media. Cougar Memes netted hundreds of new “likes” within days. People began submitting their own memes, adding their own rants about parking, textbook prices, and how “cougarnet” sounds suspiciously like something a little less than academic. Eventually, the page caught the eye of CSU’s official social media page, which cheekily added its own submission two days after the original.
“When they posted the meme, that was probably one of the best days of my entire college career,” said Staples with a grin. “I sent it to my mom, I posted it all over my personal Facebook page…it was just too perfect of a moment.”
Still, Staples considers it more than just silliness. In their anonymity, he says that the memes open up a dialogue with the school where students can express their thoughts, frustrations and observations without fear.
“[When CSU posted their own meme], it said OK, everybody is good in taking a joke, so that’s great. But I also have legitimacy now, I’m becoming noisy enough of a voice that the school administration is turning around and saying ‘We have to address this guy.’ It’s kind of this thing where we have a common forum for discussion.”
It hasn’t always been a smooth ride. Some of Staples’ memes have ruffled people’s feathers, and at one point he even began receiving threats against his family. He has been accused of racism and insensitivity, both charges that he rejects.
“Every time we have a meme about Peachtree Mall, we do get a little bit of kickback, and I have sympathy for that,” he said. Peachtree Mall, which is directly across the street from Main Campus, was recently the site of several shootings, one of them fatal.
“The larger issue is that Peachtree Mall has a ban on firearms, so they’ve made a statement that you can’t defend yourself or your community on Peachtree Mall’s property. I think that’s ridiculous, and worth making fun of.”
The worst wave of criticism came only a few weeks ago, in August. “That one was actually kind of interesting,” said Staples. “You may remember the South Park episode ‘Trapped in the Closet.’ R. Kelly was randomly showing up throughout the episode, pulling out his gun, so I took that and made it about Peachtree Mall. And you know, the fact that R. Kelly was black automatically made that meme ‘racist.’” The post was reported so many times that Facebook flagged it for removal.
One commenter began tagging people and encouraging them to find Staples’s place of work and where he lived. “There was one person who perceived that I was making fun of people dying, and they said, ‘Hey, two shots to your dome.’ So now, it’s gotten to a point where people are advocating physical harm sometimes.”
Staples, for the most part, says that he understands that a lot of the criticism is symptomatic of larger issues that need to be discussed “It seems to me that it’s more frustration with racism in general and I just became a focus point for that,” he said. “Just look at what’s been happening over the past few years. You’ve had people in power telling people of color that they need to be quiet and put up with oppression. And we’ve pushed it down so long that many of these people feel like they can no longer have a reasonable conversation.”
Most of the controversy has since died down, and as the year goes on, Staples says that he has become more preoccupied with finding a replacement to run the page when he graduates. “I have two classes on campus next semester, so my involvement on campus is about to go way down, and I can’t stay connected enough to run a memes page semester-round when I don’t know what’s going on.”
He says he is thinking about tapping one of his regular contributors to take over the page full time. “One thing I’m huge about with Cougar Memes is that I try to keep as many user submissions in there as possible, it’s very democratic like that. It’s possible that I might just get one of the comment submitters to take over the page. I’m throwing a lot of ideas around.”
Until then, he’s still making sure to have fun. “Anything from making the memes to watching people’s reactions to it, I love it. It’s probably weird, and maybe a lot of people will be changing their privacy settings after they read this, but I love clicking on the little “shares” button and seeing what the conversations are, what people are commenting and discussing.”
More discussion about things that matter to students is essential, and based on the number of hits his memes get, more people seem to be joining the discussion every week. Maybe memes will eventually become our primary method of public forum. Until then, we can at least count on Cougar Memes to keep the funny stuff coming.