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Performer Mayyadda singing at the University of Minnesota Juneteenth Celebration “We Are The Noise: The Echoes of Our Ancestors” captured on Saturday, June 15.
Best photos of June '24
Published June 23, 2024

In conversation with UMN student and meme account legend @joan.of.arca

A meme account owner walks among us.
A meme reposted by @joan.of.arca made by @nice.2.mitya

The meme accounts of today have layers.

They simultaneously highlight the absurdity of current political and cultural events or conversations while also revisiting the pieces of media we found funny or evocative years ago, retroactively viewing them in a post-ironic, parallactic light. Meme accounts are not just dispensers of humor, but curators of what we find funny, of how and what we think critically of today.

@joan.of.arca’s recent post about Nancy Pelosi making a second appearance on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” comes to mind. Why, one might ask, is the house speaker making, not her first, but her second appearance on a campy reality TV show? The humor is in the existence of the question itself.

Within just a year of running her account, @joan.of.arca has risen to the ranks of meme account celebrity. She’s amassed a following over of 110,000 @joan.of.arca-pilled disciples, Bjork’s daughter and Brittany Broski, among plenty of other micro-celebs and influencers follow her, she got a shoutout from Courtney Love, she belongs in an exclusive group chat with other well known meme accounts and she’s been spotlighted in the New York Times.

But, Instagram account aside, who is this purveyor of memetry? Well, to start off she’s a student here at the University. She’s a history and strategic communications double major. A second year. A janitor at a University residence hall. She loves Arca, and she’s been online engaging in fandom wars and finding niche communities on the Internet since she was 13.

I sat down in Coffman Union with Ms. of Arca one windy Friday afternoon to discuss her Tumblr days, the role of a modern-day meme account and where to find a hyper online partner on campus.

Would you consider yourself chronically online?
That’s a question I think about every day. Chronically online has a certain connotation, like a hyper-woke, SJW, sensitive, TikTok-using 13-year-old vibe to it. I don’t think I associate myself with that. But yes, I’m online all the time, like chronically. When I talk to people in real life I kind of assume they know these niche Internet things and they often don’t. Then I find myself embarrassed that I can’t have a normal conversation without mentioning something that happened online somewhere.

When did you begin getting into online culture? Did you ever have a Tumblr in its prime?
I love that you asked whether I had a Tumblr, because I did have a Tumblr. I think I made an account when I was around 13 in middle school right when Tumblr aesthetics were in their heyday. I had a K-pop Tumblr with maybe 1000 followers, which at the time I thought was a lot. I kind of wiped that out of my memory because it was insane. I had a K-pop phase when I was like 12.

So you were really ahead of your time in terms of pop culture knowledge.
Oh, for sure. I knew about BTS in 2013 or whenever they came up. But also, as I got older I got really into Lana Del Rey, and the Marina and the Diamonds aesthetic, bath bombs and glitter, astrology, mood boards. I was really into fandoms. I wouldn’t post but I loved observing them. I’d develop these parasocial relationships with all these random Sherlock blogs, and I really enjoyed that. And that translated when I got a Twitter. I’d do the same thing with Lady Gaga stan Twitter where I’d closely follow it, like know the main people in those niche groups and learn about them. I really thought of them as friends, which is really weird and cringe.

It’s not that weird! I was the same. I closely followed the One Direction fandom when I was 13 or 14. I had a Tumblr. I feel like ever since I was in third grade I always had some sort of celebrity or pop culture obsession.
You have to get as deep as possible. You can’t just like it from afar, you have to get really into it.

I know people overuse these words all the time, but there definitely is a sense of community in these fandoms, even if you’re all just collectively obsessing over a picture of Harry Styles or something.

So then how does all of your knowledge of and experience with pop culture translate into your humor?
Looking back on those times, I feel like I’m more mature now. But I still think that era of the Internet is very funny. So I like to replicate that by either posting stuff from that time or taking new things and putting it in the style of those old things I love, like the fake Tumblr stories or the aesthetic, Pinterest-y edits. I recently made some using Bladee songs or like Charli XCX songs, and put them in that style just as a parody of that.

I remember seeing a post of yours that was about being a ballerina, and I remember when I was younger and training as a dancer I literally posted that on my Instagram thinking “Oh my god, this is so true,” like really taking it seriously. A lot of meme posts now are these revisionist looks at things that we took seriously when we were younger. It’s like a post-ironic view of media from a few years ago.
At least in the circles of people I’m in, that’s what we like to do. But I think it’s sort of collapsing in on itself because now memes that were funny to us or cool to some people maybe even like four months ago are now getting recycled and made fun of for being old and unfunny.

Why do you think we can look at a piece of media or a meme we found funny as close as like four months ago and completely alter our humor on it, and then repost it in a sort of post-ironic way?
I think that people in general are spending more time on their phones and I think the pandemic exacerbated something that was already going on. TikTok, which I think is the new frontier for memes and it informs what gets posted on Twitter and Instagram, has made our attention spans much shorter. TikTok is the root of humor in a way and the videos are very short, and after mindlessly and endlessly scrolling through them you develop this very curated algorithm through your For You page that is tailored to your humor.

So I think you get a saturation of a very specific kind of video or humor, and you keep seeing it and seeing it. At some point you become tired of seeing it. Like, I used to think this is funny like two weeks ago but I’ve seen a hundred videos about it since then. That’s what happens with memes in general, they become so overdone. But the speed and the scale is much larger, and the time that it takes to do that now is much shorter.

You’ve got more than 100k followers on Instagram. That’s more people than the current student body at the University. That’s a ton of eyes on what you post, not including when people post your memes to their story. Even though you are technically an anonymous account, have you ever thought about how you could post something and 100,000 people could potentially see something you created?
Yeah, that’s scary. I’ve always been kind of nervous about that, even when I didn’t have that many followers. So I’m very careful about what I post. I’m really terrified of people being upset with me, so I really tried to post things that aren’t controversial at all.

Are you ever afraid of being canceled?
I mean, I always look myself up on Twitter to make sure I’m not canceled and that’s how I find out if/when people are mad at me. It scares me so much even though I don’t really post things that would cancel me, like I’m terrified about the idea of ruining your life by posting something.

I don’t want to sound annoying but I think cancel culture is bad, and I know that’s a take that may not be popular but I think deep down everyone agrees. Cultural attitudes change. So something that would be appropriate right now could be looked at later under a harsher eye. I really hope that we move beyond this. I think most people are growing fatigued with it.

What do you think is the role of a meme account in our culture today?
There are different ways to be a meme account. Like I have a friend who runs one and she has a graphic design degree so her posts are high quality and professional memes. But there are also accounts that are literally just shitposting. It’s all about posting what you think is funny and finding an audience of people who also connect with your humor.

How would you describe your content?
I think of it as a love letter to my adolescence, like what we were talking about earlier, your Tumblr fandom years, like that’s what I’m inspired by the most. So my account is a reflection of that and remixing or recontextualizing that sort of humor into things that are going on right now.

Dream socratic seminar rotation?
Kardashian Kolloquium, _lady_hannah_ and Nathan Fielder.

What on campus is mid and what is based?
Gopheralls are mid. Cane’s is based. It just is.

Where on campus can you find a hyper online GF, BF or partner?
@goldysjockstrap’s comment sections or RadioK staff meetings.

What is the equation for a successful @joan.of.arca meme?
Furries + Ellen DeGeneres + the whisper font + if you can manage this, have the meme on someone else’s phone so you can take a picture of it so the quality is really bad. So like anything that looks really, really awful looking I like to post.

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