Relatable Oddities: The Quirky Intimacy of Mental Health Memes
While scholars have effectively used affect theory to consider the relationship between social media, personhood, and feminism, these studies have prioritized imagery propagating mainstream conceptions of the neoliberal female as a cis-het, middle-class, mentally stable woman and fall short of a thorough aesthetic analysis of non-normative subjects. In order to understand how resistant materials interact with postfeminism and how social media re-configures intimacy, this paper analyzes the affective aesthetics of memes about mental illness (including but not limited to depression). These memes, I argue, share an affective aesthetic of “quirkiness” that uses absurd imagery, satires of postfeminism, and ironic self-depictions. An example is a vintage advertisement edited to read: “Girls just wanna have serotonin.” This use of quirkiness harnesses the experience of mental illness to thread together the affective labor of author and reader into a sense of intimacy. Quirkiness openly meditates on normative subjecthood; it postulates a disruption of postfeminist ideology but capitulates to normativity– both consciously and unconsciously. In my analysis of quirkiness and mental illness memes, the aesthetic inadvertently undergoes a commodification to become both a source of cultural capital and a consumable product. The highly self-aware authors of these memes demonstrate how youth culture seeks intimacy under and grapples with neoliberalism through an ironic presentation of self.