May 8, 2012
The Millennial Generation’s Motto: YOLO
Just the other day I saw a meme on Facebook that made me laugh because of its true, but also very sad portrayal of my own generation. Before I move on, let me just explain what exactly a meme is for those of you who are not constant Facebook, Tumblr, or any other social media forum users. Defining a meme is hard for me to do because I myself am not even sure where these things came from or why they are called “memes”. So…when in doubt, you research! And where is it you ask that I turn to first for my ‘scholarly’ research? I turned to Urban Dictionary of course! Hah don’t laugh, the site may not provide what we might refer to as professional definitions, but what it does provide are definitions written by normal every day people. Therefore, the site much like Wikipedia is a great place to start your research journey. To my surprise, even the definitions supplied by the usually dependable Urban weren’t exactly what I had thought they would be.
As a result, I then directed my search to Wikipedia which is when I discovered that there are in fact two different types of memes, one in the real world and one in the internet world. This was why I had not been satisfied with Urban Dictionary’s definition, because I had searched ‘meme’ when I should have searched ‘internet meme’. That shows you how technologically aware I am, I had mistakenly thought the word meme only came into existence after the creation of internet memes. See, this is why research is not always boring and painful, often times you will end up stumbling upon a new discovery or realization that you had never planned on discovering. That’s the adventure of research, bet ya’ never thought research could be so fun?! HA! Okay, I really don’t like research that much, who does?
I would now like to provide you with a few of the meme and internet meme definitions I found. Before I do this, I’ll explain my own brief understanding of what an internet meme was before I found the following definitions. In my mind, a meme was an image you could find and/or create on the internet. The image will most likely be making fun of something, someone, or somewhere with the use of words typed either at the top or bottom of the image. As you can see, I didn’t have an exactly in-depth understanding of the term. So I have decided to help you, my wonderful audience and provide a few ‘official’ definitions of the term. The following are Wikipedia’s two definitions of the widely used term.
“The term Internet meme ( /ˈmiːm/ MEEM)is used to describe a concept that spreads via the Internet. The term is a reference to the concept of memes, although the latter concept refers to a much broader category of cultural information.”
“A meme ( /ˈmiːm/; MEEM)is “an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective pressures.”
And finally, the following is one of Urban Dictionary’s many definitions for an internet meme.
3. Internet Meme
(Or just meme)
“A trend that was funny/cool at first, but has gotten to the point of being so painfully unfunny and overused that most memes are used simply to provoke someone in an argument. Other memes are used by people that lack even a strand of a sense of humor. Also abused by douche bags and/or tools.”
In addition to these helpful definitions, I believe I found some of the most beneficial explanations of what a meme is on Issuepedia.org. Rather than providing definitions, the website provided more of an understanding of the word and its meaning in society. Issuepedia explains the following,
“The word meme was coined in 1976 by scientist-author Richard Dawkins to describe the idea that ideas have discernable attributes that affect the ways in which those ideas spread.
Although it may seem that “idea” and “meme” are indistinguishable, since all ideas are memes and all memes are ideas, it is generally presumed that an “idea” spreads only if it is a good idea, i.e. an idea which is generally seen to be beneficial in some way. A successful “meme”, however, may spread because of attributes which have nothing to do with the idea’s inherent value.”
This is the explanation that truly solidified my understanding of a meme, because I could so easily relate the functions of a meme that were being explained to that of the countless YOLO hashtags and memes that have currently taken over the internet. Memes are something that will over power a good idea simply because they provoke controversy and therefore, attract more attention.
All righty then, now that I have provided with you with such a generous wealth of knowledge on what exactly a meme/internet meme is, let’s get on with the actual meme that inspired this essay and more importantly the meme that made me realize how embarrassingly irrational my fellow millennial members, can be. This is not at all to say that I myself am not guilty of making irrational and irresponsible decisions at times, rather I am simply pointing out how ridiculous it is that so many of us are utilizing this #YOLO ‘motto’ to rationalize these common coming of age irrational choices. This particular internet meme I want to discuss possessed two daunting images of two girls around my age, (late teens to early twenties). There was one image on top and one below, set up similar to that of a photo strip you would get from one of those photo booths that you see on the boardwalk or in the mall. The image on top showed two young women holding a drink in one hand with their arms around each other. The two exuded care free happiness and looked as though they were having one the best nights of their lives. This first image had a caption that read “At first I was like #YOLO”. While the image on the bottom showed a young woman sitting on the toilet in a bathroom, her worried gaze directed down at the pregnancy test she was holding in her hand, her facial expression looking like she’d do anything to get back to that night where everything seemed so perfect and like nothing could ever go wrong. The caption of this image read, “But then I was like…”
Due to this particular meme’s combination of just the right amount of accuracy and wit, my initial reaction was of course laughter; however once the truth and reality of the image settled in to my brain, I realized this image was not only comical and worth a few good laughs but also quite an embarrassing representation of my own generation. Oh yes, we Millennials are known for many things just as any generation is. We’re known for our parents taking the form of helicopters when it came to raising us, we’re known for receiving recognition in the form trophies and gold medals just for showing up to the damn game, and we’re known for being one the first generations in a long time who’s futures in the job market looks worse than our predecessors. Due to this drastic and unfortunate recession currently taking place in the American job market, I think one of the affects has been my generation’s eager adoption of this long existing and recycled motto of YOLO (You Only Live Once). YOLO can be compared to other similar, well-known expressions or quotes promoting the value of life such as, Carpe Diem (Seize the Day), or James Dean’s famous quote, “Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today.” Notice, these commonly used expressions are used to remind us just how short life really is and that we should make the best of it because we never know when it might end. However, recently both my generation and generation Z have taken this #YOLO expression to a whole new ridiculous and narcissistic level…
The embarrassment I felt as a result of this #YOLO internet meme stemmed from my belonging to a generation I would like to refer to as, for the sake of this essay, the “YOLO generation”. You may know us by these more commonly used titles such as, generation Y or Millennials. I’d like to take a second here and quote two comedic geniuses you should all know from Saturday Night Live, Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler. The two are famous for their long run as SNL’s Weekend Update co-anchors and when Amy was still on the show, the two had a clever and comical segment called “REALLY?? With Seth and Amy” Now, the following is directed to my generation, myself included and also generation Z, (take this as comedic sarcasm please), but REALLY? We’re going to rationalize our stupid, mostly drunken life decisions with the use of famous hip-hop artist Drake’s “mother fuckin’ motto”, #YOLO?! Drake, who some of you may remember as Degrassi’s previous wheel chair basketball star Jimmy, has since moved on from his starring role in the beloved tween television show to his current day gig as “hip-hop’s centre of gravity”. Even Weezy F. Baby/Lil Wayne agrees with this title assigned to Drake and says this in “Money to Blow”, “And we gon’ be alright if we put Drake on every hook.” Side note, if any of you care, Degrassi has managed to survive without Drake and has since moved on as it always does to a newer generation of emotionally unstable Canadian middle schoolers; that I’m sure are probably stirring up all types of drama and proclaiming their devotion to YOLO through the school’s hallways as we speak. Maybe the trailer for a new episode sounds something like this, “And in next week’s episode, Tessa finds out she actually had sex with that random guy the night she got black out drunk and took ecstasy, feeling a loss of control, Tessa rationalizes her drunken decisions with YOLO. Tune in to see what happens next and always remember kids, nothing matters, do whatever you want. YOLO! ”
I’m not sure if this goes for all memes, but it was mentioned that they may not always be a “good” idea, but they still catch on. This is exactly how I feel about YOLO, however; YOLO, if taken the right way can be a wonderful way to think about life. The error occurs not in the saying itself, but rather in the way many are choosing to understand the expression, and in how many are living it out. This corrupt mindset that YOLO has recently fostered among young people is something along the lines of, “I had a one night stand last night…YOLO!” “But I think I might have an S.T.D…oh well, YOLO!” It is due to stupid and reckless statements like these that I am often embarrassed to be a member of my own generation. That sounds horrible doesn’t it? With statements like that though, I’ve concluded I have the right to be embarrassed. That may sound bad, but it is the truth. Which leads me to my question, why are we such irresponsible pleasure seekers? I am fully aware that pleasure seeking is a natural trait amongst all living things, however; there is such a thing as self control.
The self control aspect is what’s missing from this equation. We are taught that there are plenty of things in this world that are good or bad for us, but that most of the time anything is good in moderation. We were not taught that anything is made okay simply by uttering the YOLO acronym after you do it. Hell, it’s said that Taurus’ are often known to be pleasure seekers, but clearly we are not a generation of strictly Taurus babies. Or are we? What if all Millenials were secretly born in late April to mid May and all of the other birthdays are just ruses to keep away suspicion?! Dun, dun, dun…Okay, totally kidding. Anyway, I think these acts of pure selfishness that seemed to have increased in popularity since the invention of the social media networking sites, are linked directly to the narcissism of my generation. I get that all of us have been guilty of participating in irresponsible and pleasure driven activities before no matter which generation you may be from. I just think that through social media, these acts have in a way become more glorified than ever before. This glorification is due largely in part to the fact that information, especially juicy information, travels fast and always has. It’s just that now with technology at the advanced point that it’s at, this same juicy information has been given bionic wings that allow it to fly through internet portals at previously unimaginable speeds. This then results in everyone and their mommas catching on to new and stupid ideas, sayings, and fads faster than ever before. Not only can ANYTHING spread throughout the internet quicker than you or I can blink an eye, but it can also gain worldwide recognition in the same fast paced manner. Once something like YOLO catches on and becomes viral, which it has, it becomes impossible to imagine the world without this virus.
A saying that has been around for years has suddenly caught the attention of two unsuspecting generations who have latched on to this meme or idea or way of life, whatever it is to you, like it is their last breath of life. The saying itself offers profound advice to live your life fully because you will only get one. So, what I don’t get is all these idiots wasting their lives with short term pleasure seeking activities and thinking that exclaiming YOLO after these actions makes everything okay. What kind of effed up life philosophy is that?! The whole point of “You only live once” is to instill the value of how precious life is and that is should not be wasted on stupid decisions that could ruin your whole life. This value of life should instead be prompting behavior like, I don’t know, maybe staying in school and receiving a degree or certification that will allow you to enjoy a comfortable life. You know like real, ACHIEVEMENTS. Not dropping out of high school because it’s boring and after all you do only live once so, therefore you get to do whatever it is you want and also expect no consequences in return for your actions. We have taken this realistic advice to cherish our one life and turned it in to a fairy tale that is tailored to fit our own specific wants and needs. All the while, expecting a happy ending no matter how we choose to live our lives. Well guess what, life doesn’t work like that and it never has. Oh, you want to be rich and have all the ladies chasing you like they do Drake? Well, like The Rolling Stones said, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, ya get what ya need.” And you my friend need a reality check if you’re thinking that you’re the next “centre of hip hop gravity”, but have never written a rap in your life.
I am both intrigued and bothered by my generations focus on the self. We are truly a very self absorbed generation, in our defense I think that this selfishness has only been ignited, fueled, and fostered with the invention of social media networking websites like Facebook, Myspace, and all the way back to the days of Xanga. As far back as I can remember, we Millenials seemed to have always had a mindset of something like this, “Everyone should care about what I am doing at every waking moment of my day.” And we have as a result turned websites like Facebook in to a stalkers wet dream with our constant check-ins and status updates. It’s all about me, myself, and I with us, don’t get me wrong I fully support loving and embracing who you are, but there comes a point when it gets to be obsessive and that’s not healthy for us as individuals or the one’s around us. So what am I saying here? It’s not like people haven’t been self absorbed before, there’s the story of Narcissus and Echo from Greek mythology to prove this. Narcissism has caused problems in the past and will continue to do so in the future. I think we not only have the social media sites to thank for our sometimes sickening narcissism, but also the media corporations who have made us in to their main marketing focus since the days we came out of our mother’s wombs. Both the Millennials and generation Z have grown up in a fast paced, media dominated society that has always put us and our needs first. How could anyone expect that environment plus the addition of social media in to our lives to not be a recipe for total self absorption?
It is usually the case that every generation wants their children to be better off than they were. I think this is very clear amongst the Millennial generation in which the self esteem movement played a very keen role in shaping. Elder generations have been known to say that we are self entitled. Although I do agree that, yes the majority of us are self absorbed and self entitled, I’d like to ask how do you think we got this way? We were raised to think like this, the elder generations like the Baby Boomers and Generation X mustn’t forget that they are the ones responsible for molding our overly confident generation. I am not blaming our predecessors for our often embarrassing behavior; rather I am simply suggesting that maybe a second thought should have been given to raising a generation of kids as if they were the end all to be all. Because plenty of us sure have taken this up bringing to heart, so many of us come off so, for the lack of a better word, bratty. An Atlantic article discussing Millennials says the following,
“Many books and articles celebrate Millennials (born, roughly, 1982 to 1999) as helpful, civically oriented young people who want to save the planet. Others argue the polar opposite, that Millennials are entitled, self-centered, and uninterested in much outside their own Facebook page. Which view is right — are Millennials Generation We or Generation Me?”
This is the question I want to leave you with. I will gladly leave you with my own Millennial perspective which is, yes to all of the above. Yes, we can be self centered and yes a great deal of us enjoys serving our fellow human beings. However, these are such general attributes that anybody reigning from any generation could possess. I want you to give the above quotation thought, but in addition to that, I’d also like to ask you to think about why it is that a generation said to be so elite, technologically advanced and aware, would grasp on to something so flighty and irrational proclaimed by a rapper whose fame will surely soon fade. And along with it the popularity of rationalizing these life choices that we knew were wrong but did anyway because of the ever so dependable YOLO insurance–better than State Farm I’ve heard. Are we scared of what lie ahead? Is that the reason why we could care less if we do something to prevent us from reaching our futures? Yes, it is true that the economy does not look good for us, but with our skills and higher educations I’m sure we’ll figure it out and we’ll be just fine. I’m really not sure to be totally honest what it is that would convince a generation that is so privileged, especially in the realm of education, to live their young lives so irresponsibly all because a famous rapper at the time proclaimed it the mother fuckin’ motto.
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