After two-and-a-half years of image-macro-based mockery and outrage—some genuine, some feigned—Daniel Braden, the man behind the “McGill Memes” Facebook page and Tumblr microblog, is graduating from McGill and moving to Boston to work on a congressional campaign. This week, the Tribune sat down with Braden to take stock of the satire of the years since the site’s launch in November 2011.
McGill Tribune: What prompted you to start the site?
Daniel Braden: Honestly, looking back on it, it was really just me realizing the funny contradictions that make up McGill. I was living with a writer for the McGill Daily at the time; she was lovely, but a lot of her friends I found very intriguing and very representative of McGill—people who would go on to do the Nov. 10 occupation, #6party, etc. I started it as an inside joke, really.
MT: Could you elaborate on these contradictions?
DB: I think one of the things I noticed were the number of people who seemed to be very wealthy. Many of them would be protesting the tuition hikes and the horrors of capitalism, but would wear expensive clothes and have expensive electronics. While that doesn’t mean you can’t have principles, these people didn’t seem to align with what you would think they would believe in.
MT: What have you found most interesting in your time running “McGill Memes”?
DB: There were times I posted things I thought would absolutely cause an uproar, and they never did. For example, riffing off the stereotype that the Cybertheque library is frequented by East Asians. Those memes were racially insensitive, what you would call a “microaggression,” and I was pretty surprised no one really complained.
MT: Do you think you’ve managed to say anything meaningful about the university and/or its students through your satire?
DB: I actually do. I don’t want to say I’m the one true voice of McGill, because that’s not true at all. But I think I did point out things that no one discussed openly. Chief among those is the lack of service in French at McGill and the lack of full translation, outside of official McGill communications, which is notable considering there are many translation students who would be able to perform such services. English is something McGill’s anglophone students really take for granted.
MT: How hard was it to come up with material?
DB: When I first started with the strikes, the Nov. 10 occupations, #6party, and the AUS GA, it literally wrote itself. Last year was a bit hard, and it has gotten progressively harder. “McGill Memes” would probably not have gotten started were it not for the provincial and student politics in late 2011-2012.
MT: Characterize your political views in a campus context.
DB: A constantly surprised and exasperated observer. One thing that McGill politics has taught me is that nothing is too petty or too small to be taken seriously. That said, this tendency is also a great source of comedic material.
MT: Give an example of particularly petty politics.
DB: We all had to live through ‘Farnangate,’ and we’re still living through the hangover of that. While I’m not a person of color and there could be legitimate reasons for the complaint, at surface value, it was one of the pettiest things I’ve seen in my time at McGill. You would have had to have gone so far out of your way to be offended to that point.
MT: Do you think students should care more about student politics?
DB: Yeah, I think that you can care about student politics without necessarily being angry and needlessly indignant, but I think McGill is too apathetic about these things. There’s a way to be involved in student politics without being overly tiresome.
MT: What did you think of the SSMU elections saga?
DB: What I will say about the election is that as a voter, I am angry; but as a comedian, I am delighted. There couldn’t be a better way for SSMU to end the year and for me to end my four years. On top of everything, even back to the bike gates, I am so happy that my last few weeks here will be spent hashing these failed lease negotiations and then this electoral curveball.
MT: Do you feel a sense of responsibility knowing that your more political posts are the only source of information many students get about campus news, perhaps even provincial politics?
DB: Absolutely not. If you are using my page as your only source of provincial and campus political news, you need to wake up. Additionally, while I’ve had people ask me to put up posts about their pet issues/campaigns, I really don’t think this page has that much of an impact. I don’t feel terribly responsible for it on that front.
MT: What do you hope students took out of the page?
DB: A sense of humour. McGill doesn’t really have one. It’s not a funny school. The funniest thing I’ve seen is “Lot’s wife, McGill”—and that is funny—but that’s it. They call the University of Chicago the place where fun goes to die; this is where your sense of humor just goes to wither.
MT: Do you have any plans for the “McGill Memes” page after you finish?
DB: I did originally want to try to find someone to pass it on to. As it stands, I have plans for a grand finale, but I don’t think it’s going to keep on going.
This interview was edited and condensed by Abraham Moussako.
”Honestly, looking back on it, it was really just me realizing the funny contradictions that make up McGill.”
”Chief among those is the lack of service in French at McGill and the lack of full translation, outside of official McGill communications, which is notable considering there are many translation students who would be able to perform such services.”
You are right; it’s not like the SSMU hires two to three student office translators each year to translate GA motions, listservs, translate at live events both on chat and in person and pretty much everything they send out. But a French student looking to improve the status of French at McGill would try to get such a job, or maybe apply for Francophone Commissioner Position.