On a sunny day in LA, DRØME invited instagram personalities and meme creators Julia @binchcity and Lupe @problematiqueer to sit in conversation. They discussed the impact of internet culture, what it means to use comedy as a way to create empathy between marginalized groups, and how to make content about delicate topics like mental illness in a way that generates healing.
Julia: We don’t have a script.
Lupe: Oh shit! Alright, okay cool. Let’s do this.
Julia: We’re sitting up here on a roof in Los Angeles, California, ready to talk about memes.
Julia: I first started my account as a way to express angst and depression and anxiety. I didn’t intend for it to gain any followers at all—I didn’t even know that there was a community—I just saw the memes that @gothshakira and @scariestbugever were making and I thought I could do that, but I want to talk about depression. Lupe and I have really incorporated mental illness in a way that some others haven’t. For example, we made the “I Have Never Had Depression Starter Pack” which no one had made before! It felt very fresh and new and radical. Memes have a lot of cultural power that a lot of people don’t recognize.
Lupe: It has been so much easier to connect with other people because we are very open about our experiences. The power of memes is to articulate the problem, understand that other people are going through the same thing, and empathize with each other.
Julia: But not to say, Isn’t it great that we have this problem and we’re not gonna do anything about it.
Lupe: Right. So when I make a meme about an issue that I have, I want to reach some kind of closure, and move on. But a lot of people don’t do that. A lot of them stick with that baggage, you know?
Julia: I am a psychology major and have volunteered at places that deal with eating disorders and self harm, so I understand that certain behaviors—eating disorders, drinking too much, and self harm—are ways to express distress. They’re obviously rooted in mental illness, but aren’t mental illnesses in and of themselves, usually they’re a byproduct. These symptoms work in a very communal way: if somebody sees a meme like “Eating Disorder starting pack,” anyone prone to those behaviors will be influenced by that kind of content, especially young girls. Talking about depression and mental illness has helped a lot of people. But these new accounts are making memes about it in a way that’s just like ‘look at my depression.’ They’re not saying anything substantial.
Lupe: It's difficult to understand why eating disorders operate differently from something like depression or anxiety, but mental illness is tricky in that way. You can't influence someone to develop depression, but because eating disorders are comprised of specific destructive behaviors, people who are recovering may be triggered into repeating them.
Julia: If I was making memes when I was 15 years old, they would be awful and would have no self awareness. I recently changed my handle because there are all these new accounts popping up with the word “memes” in them. I don’t wanna call it a “meme community” because I think it means something really different now. The point is, now we have a platform. You don’t want to throw away a platform that can reach thousands of people, but you also have to figure out how to produce content different from other people and how can to get your point across without making memes. We are trying to figure out what it means to be making content about mental illness now that the internet is so saturated with it.
Lupe: Right. I stopped making memes because I had just grown distant from the people who were also making memes and from the actual form in general. I remembered how many different kinds of art projects I have going on, and I realized how I had been neglecting them.
Julia: I write music, I write poetry, I do a lot of things. When I started making memes, I couldn’t muster the energy to write a song or a poem. I could only spit out my feelings in pure explicit form.
I’m sure this is a problem that a lot of artistic or creative communities come to face, which is what can we say when everything’s already been said. For example when I started feeling less depressed, I stopped making as much content and I felt like people stopped engaging with my content as much. I’m at a point where I don’t wanna give up the platform because I think it’s still useful. I’ve gotten interviewed by publications because of this account.
Lupe: I was in a research paper!
Julia: Me too! Cambridge University interviewed us, and obviously we’re doing this interview with DRØME, which is awesome. We wouldn’t have been able to do that if it wasn’t for this community. Also, I’ve met a lot of cool queer people through Instagram.
Lupe: One hundred percent. I think a lot of my audience is queer just because of the material that I made. A lot of my posts are about being queer and trans.
Julia: Your journey kind of happened on Instagram, in public.
Lupe: Exactly. My queer content gave me such a platform. So many more people see my posts and interact with me to tell me that I’ve been helpful to them in their transition. And I know I wouldn’t have been able to do that without memes.
Julia: Sometimes I’ll ask, “Does anyone actually care that I’m posting this content?” And people will respond, “Your memes have helped me so much. Thank you.”
Lupe: Recognizing that we have a voice, we feel responsible to the audience that we have. I think a lot of people forget that there are real people out there looking at their stuff.
Julia: I hope that people are influenced by what we post, I do think that we comment on things that are important. Making content on the internet is one of the ways that marginalized people especially, can express themselves. I’m not an incredibly marginalized person but being mentally ill definitely has alienated me. When I was in high school I remember feeling so alone. I would lie to people about having to go to therapy because I was embarrassed about it. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like if I was 16 and I’d seen memes about going to therapy. I would have felt so much less alone. But you have to be very careful about the content you put out about mental illness. Just posting about mental illness, or feminism or gender issues isn't necessarily good. It has to be carefully thought out and articulated. A lot of times you can end up doing more damage than good.
Lupe: I do think you have a responsibility when you have a platform. Speaking of responsibility with a platform, we gotta talk about women of color who make memes. Because the amount of hate they get compared to cis white girls making memes is crazy. @goldnosering for example makes memes that are specifically feminist and memes that work against racism. The content cis white girls make is more palatable for a lot of people. They’re seen as easier to relate to because whiteness is the default in people’s heads.
Julia: Also the less controversial the stuff you’re talking about is, the more people can relate to it. I’ve been told by people, “Stop making that kind of content, people don’t relate to it, you’re not going to get as wide of a platform.” But I honestly don’t want a wide platform. If you’re trying to appeal to millions of people, you’re not going to be able to post the same kind of content!
Lupe: A lot of people who make memes are purposefully quiet when a lot of issues come up because they want to maintain the maximum appeal that they possible can.
Julia: I think we are still trying to figure out what it means to be making comedic, feminist, intersectional content on Instagram specifically. The dynamics of it are really interesting and they are really changing. But I definitely think that memes about mental illness certainly have an impact on the way that people talk about their mental health.
An earlier version of this interview was updated to include expanded commentary from the artists.