Gen Z Explained: The Affirmation Meme

If you’re an avid social media user, then you have probably witnessed the wild trajectories of internet meme culture. There is a new format that has garnered a cult-like following of zoomers alike, one with brightly coloured borders and glowing word art: Affirmations.

@Afffirmations is a wildly popular Instagram account which currently has 866k followers. Their posts are unified in a very specific aesthetic: pixelated y2k stock images captioned with short affirmations in glowing, bold typography. The account takes an atypical spin on original affirmation Instagram accounts which are marked by their bland inspirational quotes. But in true Gen Z fashion, this rendition has a bit more spice; the posts are drenched in irony, sporadicity, and are pretty much incomprehensible to anyone beyond this internet-crazed milieu.

Curated meme accounts have sort of become a thing of the past. The collective exhaustion in striving for conformity within the attention economy of social media has brought a new kind of internet culture: shit-posting. These kinds of accounts forgo order and meaning, they forsake the straightforward meme formats and do exactly what its name suggests – post an irregular, incomprehensible feed of shit that lacks any sort of value or context.

Image Description: An Instagram post from @on_a_downward_spiral, a popular shit-posting account. The caption reads “do you ever get dressed and then think of this picture and you have to change” coupled with the viral photo of five teenagers dressed in American Apparel 2014 tumblr aesthetic.

Against this backdrop of shit-posting culture, it’s interesting to see a niche meme account rise in popularity again, albeit with the same randomness as the former. Its humorous captions are also reminiscent to and may have evolved from Tumblr text posts and Whisper app posts – an anonymous social networking app where users post confessions by superimposing text on a picture. Creator of @afffirmations, Mats Nesterov Anderson says that the account was intended to “bring modernist art to Instagram.” There are varying opinions regarding the account. He says to Rolling Stone:

“Some people call it pure capitalist propaganda, some people think it’s criticising society in a way. These statements are so general and so neutral, yet everybody seems to know exactly what these statements are addressing.”

Do these posts provide a social commentary? Is the ironic tonality merely a facade to undercut the absurdities of social media as a platform within which to project our identities? Am I reading into this too deep? Probably…  

The longer it exists on the internet, the more it has evolved. The relatable and shareable nature of the affirmations meme template has seen a plethora of groups creating their own affirmations posts relevant to their respective communities. 

One of my favourite Instagram accounts at the moment is @melbourneaffirmations, specifically targeted to inner-city Melburnians. Its humour comes from its nicheness. When you think that your individual experience belongs only to you, you are reminded that it belongs to a greater number of people too. The train never stops at East Richmond; the pigeons at State Library always disturb our picnics; someone is always ten minutes late to meet you under the Flinders St Clocks; we all try to dress ‘cool’ when we go to the NGV. Our individual and collective experiences in the city that we love are realised through this ironic and satirical lens.

And of course, our own Catalyst Instagram account has hopped on the trend creating RMIT-related affirmations:

Whether it is indeed ‘modern art’ with an underground social commentary, or merely a medium for Gen Z  to ‘shit-post’, the affirmations meme is here to stay (for now). Comment “I claim” to affirm!

Article written by Catalyst Editor Beatrice Madamba

Cover image: @melbourneaffirmations on Instagram

Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

Sign up for Catalyst Magazine

Get the latest on what's happening
* = required field