Dear U.S. Dept. of Education, Here’s How to Use Memes Without Offending Everyone

Slate's Culture Blog
June 26 2014 9:02 AM

Dear U.S. Dept. of Education, Here’s How to Use Memes Without Offending Everyone

FAFSA_Bridesmaids_Tweet

Someone at the U.S. Department of Education learned the hard way that adults should not try to be cool, after tweeting out a totally hipified reminder to college students that it is time to submit the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). You know what I heard the kids are totally into these days? Memes. Ermahgerd! I can haz funny! Amirite?

Rebecca Schuman Rebecca Schuman

Rebecca Schuman is an education columnist for Slate.

Alas, the Office of Federal Student Aid was not content to appear middle-aged and uncool (a perfectly fine state of affairs, if you ask me), and the meme they tweeted out not only tried way too hard, but also was wildly insensitive to low-income students. Taking a meme in which a drunk and disorderly Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids pouts to a flight attendant and says, “Help me, I’m poor,” the Office of Federal Student Aid added the caption, “If this is you, you better fill out your FAFSA: fafsa.gov.” The department quickly deleted the tweet and apologized for it (“It was an ill-conceived attempt at reaching students through social media,” says chagrinned spokesperson Dorie Nolt), but not before others were able to take a screenshot.

Advertisement

Given that crushing student debt is one of the most serious issues our recent grads currently face, the response was about what you’d expect:

As a result of the kerfuffle, the Office of Federal Student Aid will be, according to Nolt, “reviewing [their] process for approving social media content to ensure it reflects the high standards we expect at the U.S. Department of Education,” which is great. But all they really need to do is step up their meme game. And not even very much.

I know from experience that to students, people like me (and presumably the staff of the Student Aid office) are nightmarishly decrepit. I once asked an undergrad if he, à la Gilgamesh in his eponymous epic, would eat a magic plant that would grant him eternal life. Without missing a beat, he said, “Only if I could stay under 35.” Yes, my students would rather die than spend eternity two years younger than I am now.

So look, nothing professors do—or a government office does—will ever be cool. But I think students do appreciate adults’ corny efforts to speak their language. All we have to do is not actively insult them in the process.

And I love my country, so I’m willing to do my part. I can’t imagine the Department of Education will be tweeting any more memes anytime soon, but in case they do, I humbly offer these. Sure, they’re embarrassing and old (just like me), but what they do manage is not to use the word “poor” derogatorily. (And students: It really is time to submit that FAFSA!)

OneDoesNotSimply
Wonka
FAFSA_Ariel

Rebecca Schuman is an education columnist for Slate.

TODAY IN SLATE

The Juice

Ford’s Big Gamble

It’s completely transforming America’s best-selling vehicle.

Should the United States Grant Asylum to Victims of Domestic Violence?

The Apple Watch Will Make Everyone Around You Just a Little Worse Off

This Was the First Object Ever Designed

Don’t Expect Adrian Peterson to Go to Prison

In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 

Moneybox

How the Apple Watch Will Annoy Us

A glowing screen attached to someone else’s wrist is shinier than all but the blingiest jewels.

Music

A Little Bit Softer Now, a Little Bit Softer Now …

The sad, gradual decline of the fade-out in popular music.

Is Everyone Going to Declare Independence if Scotland Does It? 

I Tried to Write an Honest Profile of One of Bollywood’s Biggest Stars. It Didn’t Go Well.

Trending News Channel
Sept. 12 2014 11:26 AM Identical Twins Aren’t Really Identical
  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Sept. 14 2014 2:37 PM When Abuse Is Not Abuse Don’t expect Adrian Peterson to go to prison. In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 12 2014 5:54 PM Olive Garden Has Been Committing a Culinary Crime Against Humanity
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 13 2014 8:38 AM “You’re More Than Just a Number” Goucher College goes transcript-free in admissions.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 12 2014 4:05 PM Life as an NFL Wife: “He's the Star. Keep Him Happy.”
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 12 2014 5:55 PM “Do You Know What Porn Is?” Conversations with Dahlia Lithwick’s 11-year-old son.
  Arts
Music
Sept. 14 2014 11:44 PM A Little Bit Softer Now, a Little Bit Softer Now … The sad, gradual decline of the fade-out in popular music.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 12 2014 3:53 PM We Need to Pass Legislation on Artificial Intelligence Early and Often
  Health & Science
New Scientist
Sept. 14 2014 8:38 AM Scientific Misconduct Should Be a Crime It’s as bad as fraud or theft, only potentially more dangerous.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 12 2014 4:36 PM “There’s No Tolerance for That” Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh say they don’t abide domestic abuse. So why do the Seahawks and 49ers have a combined six players accused of violence against women?