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Why Teens Use Memes to Talk About Love

To teens, “memes r life.”

by Alana Levinson
Jun 26 2016, 4:00pm

Image: @kelsiemorrisonx

The great American cliché of getting laid at prom has never been harder. In the era of promposals—a trend of elaborate public proposals for prom—being a horny teen is simply not enough. These days, to get a date you need to stage some kind of elaborate performance and dress up as a suicide bomber or a fucking literal knight in shining armor.

When I was a teen in the early aughts, you were lucky if a guy begrudgingly muttered the one word question "prom?" when you crossed paths in the hallway. Asking someone to prom was kinda embarrassing! The only thing even close to approaching a promposal took place on TV. The then groundbreaking reality TV show Laguna Beach, which followed the lives of entitled rich kids in Southern California, featured one episode all about the lead up to prom. One boy spelled out his ask in rose petals on a girl's front lawn. It. Was. "Epic."

I remember thinking that was the kind of thing only an insanely rich kid would do—and not just because of the cost. The impetus to orchestrate something so lavish could only spring from a privileged mind. But the internet has created a universe in which every person with a connection to wifi has the chance to be famous (even if it's just for five seconds). The allure of the promposal is born out of internet culture gone mainstream. And if you're a teen, the only thing cooler than your date saying "yes" to your promposal is it also going viral.

One of the most popular promposals features a boy backing his ass up to Juvenile in gold short-shorts that read "PROM" (she said "yes"). But some cool(er) teens are using memes, of all things, to prompose. Mic tech reporter Melanie Ehrenkranz interviewed a 17-year-old girl whose boyfriend decided to capitalize on the appeal of dat boi with his proposal. "Here come dat boi!!!! o shit waddup!," the inside of a chocolate box read. "Go to prom with MEME?"

Maxine says when she first met her boyfriend they connected over "music, dogs, and memes." The casual way in which she lists "memes" along with other more tangible interests shows that they've transcended the internet in importance; These days, loving memes isn't much different from having "movies" (or more broadly, pop-culture) as a passion. When Ehrenkranz asked Tyler, a junior in highschool, why Pepe the frog is the only acceptable promposal, he said: "Bc memes r life."

Memes may seem trivial or stupid to older people, but by definition they are societally significant. The term, which refers to the way in which an idea spreads across culture and mutates along the way, was first coined by biologist Richard Dawkins as a way of discussing evolutionary theory. When a concept infiltrates our culture, it gains more and more importance when each person adds their own personal touch. Everyone has, at once, the same and different relationship to doge. So in 2016, what better way to express matters of the young heart? You can capitalize on the collective unconscious AND contribute to it! Even more awesome—and meta—is if you become a meme yourself in the process.

But on a much more innocent and simple level: memes are safe. For an insecure, awkward teen memes are a way to make a sincere gesture with a joke. They are a way to avoid the emotional risk of earnestness, every teen's nightmare. Spelling your intentions out in rose pedals, for example, has the potential to be life-ruining. But a pepe? If she says "no" to your promposal you can text your friends "ayyy lmfao" and move on.