Anonymous sources of joy: Interviews with two iconic Brandeis meme pages
The Instagram accounts @brandeis.chungles and @brandeis_overheard spoke candidly with the Justice.
THE HOOT MARKET: @brandeis.chungles pokes fun at Brandeis snack options.
On their website, Sidechat claims to be “your college’s private community.” The app came to the Brandeis campus at the beginning of the fall 2022 semester and quickly took off, with hundreds of upvotes on posts such as “thanks duo mobile. i was so concerned someone was going to log into my latte and do every single one of my assignments” and “going to brandeis made me realize that you can actually walk to class and its uphill both ways.” But the administrators of Brandeis’ ‘meme pages’ have known the pleasure of ’ saying, “there is 1 imposter among us,” with text reading, “Non-Jewish kids going over to the kosher side of Sherman” above the image.
The Instagram account @brandeis.chungles is devoted to posting humorous or satirical content focused on the Brandeis experience. “‘Greet every man of the human species with joy’ - Beit Shamma.”, reads their bio. Their first post is dated Feb. 17, 2022 (happy almost birthday, Chungles!) and features Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and a caption that reads: “The C-Store employee watching me shake another turd out of my pant leg.” Another meme, posted the next day, depicts characters from the popular mobile game ‘Among Us’ saying, “there is 1 imposter among us,” with text reading, “Non-Jewish kids going over to the kosher side of Sherman” above the image.
When asked about the inspiration behind the page, @brandeis.chungles said: “We saw a serious lack of positivity on campus, and we had always shared a goal of trying to create more joy on campus. We lead our lives through the words of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov when he says ‘It is a great mitzvah to be happy always.’” The owners of the account also said creating joy is part of what makes them want to stay anonymous: “If there is a face behind jokes, the faces get the credit; if there is no face, the credit/joy goes towards the greater community.” As an example, they described a situation in which they made a post while at lunch only for a laughing, unaware friend to show it to them a few minutes later.
“I don’t think our content is overly offensive or antagonistic, and [it] pretty much fits our real demeanors,” @brandeis.chungles said, believing that their anonymity was not the source of their attitude or sense of humor. But anonymity can be the cause of inspiration to post. They mentioned liking to pretend, “we’re some sort of Banksy figure evading nosy reporters and the public eye.” The account also told this nosy reporter that fewer than fifteen people know their identities, including those who finished an “end-of-semester scavenger hunt.” This scavenger hunt was administered at the end of the fall 2022 semester, with the top prize being a face reveal.
This desire to create joy seems antithetical to what might be the tone of many meme pages created by college students today. Many modern memes carry a kind of existential weight as they poke at climate change, class, race, and authority. As Ayesha Habib wrote for Nuvo Magazine, “Perhaps the poignancy of meme humour lies in that Gen Z has no other choice but to embrace the absurdity of the future … if you can’t laugh in the face of your existential dread, what else can you do?” Similarly, many more have observed that Millenials and Gen Z seem to be drawn to absurdist humor as a way of laughing in the face of increasing ennui. Thus, it's heartening to see that even though the account might make a post or two poking-fun at a specific group – like acapella groups at the Winter Involvement Fair – their motivation is to spread joy over cynicism. If @brandeis.chungles can cause even one person to view Brandeis more positively or have a laugh, then their job is done. They also said that running the page has only made them love and appreciate the Brandeis community more.
In contrast to @brandeis.chungles, @brandeis_overheard sees themselves as an outgrowth of Brandeis’s campus culture, rather than an active participant in it. The concept of an “overheard” page is not new; they’re common on Instagram, highlighting funny and weird things people say out of context in public settings. They exist for cities, like @overheardnewyork, and other colleges, like @overheard.yale. @brandeis_overheard said they wouldn’t have started their account if “Brandeis students didn’t say such weird things all the time.” And with almost 1,500 followers, perhaps they’re more of a contributor than they realize.
One thing @brandeis.chungles and @brandeis_overheard at Brandeis emphatically agree on is that Sidechat doesn’t steal their thunder. @brandeis.chungles said their content is unique and niche enough to stand out from Sidechat posts, while @brandeis_overheard said that because they can forget to post, Sidechat takes some pressure off of them. @brandeis_overheard and @brandeis.chungles also agreed on their motivation to stay anonymous. @brandeis_overheard said that posting is more fun “this way.” That being said, @brandeis_overheard does not ultimately seem as concerned with anonymity as @brandeis.chungles does. They said that probably around 20 people know who runs the account, and that sometimes friends loudly discuss it in the dining halls. @brandeis.chungles claims they will announce their identity when they reach 1,000 followers. Their account is currently hovering at just above 700. But for now, Brandeis students will continue to engage with the two accounts’ anonymous content.
Both accounts were also asked about their Valentine’s day plans. @brandeis_overheard said they don’t ever plan themed posts but might as a result of this question. They also said their valentine was every follower of their account, including this nosy reporter. @brandeis.chungles agreed that all of their followers were their valentine but so was a mysterious figure named Mrs. Chungles who is “1000% a real person, but she goes to a different school so no one would know who she is.”