What does it take to start a Facebook group for sharing silly images? It’s easy—shouldn’t take more than a few clicks and filling out some forms. Ask John Merrifield, who started the “CajUUUn Memes” page in March.
What does it take to get that group 46,000 members and still growing fast?
You could ask Merrifield again, though even he’s a little bewildered.
“I didn’t even think there were 40,000 Cajuns with Internet connections out there,” he said. “I joke that they just can’t find the ‘leave group’ button.”
But if you press him, he’d probably give credit to the famous Cajun sense of humor, a strong support network and team of moderators and a culture that, while rooted in tradition, lends itself to goofy jokes told with computer pictures.
The group itself is, as you might expect, very funny. Members type in jokey, conversational Cajun English, with all the “mais”s, “cher”s and other linguistic tics that entails. To an outsider, it can be incomprehensible at times, but to someone who grew up with it, it must feel utterly natural, like slipping back into old inside jokes with friends you haven’t seen for years.
There are a number of recurring themes, like people going wild for boudin and cracklins, TV chef Justin Wilson’s “I ga-ron-tee” catchphrase and taking out the gumbo pots for any “cold front” below 75 degrees. It’s just like any other tight-knit Internet community, except that rather than being totally self-referential, the jokes reference a culture that already exists. A Cajun of any age and level of computer literacy could laugh at a picture of a chimpanzee making a funny face with the caption “KEE-YAW!!!”
Memes provide an easy access point for those who may not necessarily be out in shrimp boats everyday, but feel that being Cajun is an important aspect of their identity. Merrifield sees the page as part of a larger movement of young Cajuns reasserting their Cajun identities.
“I think we help bring back, or at least spark an interest in Cajun culture that was not there for people my age before, for millennials.”
He noted that young people in Lafayette had already begun to rally around a reviving Cajun music scene before he started the group, with events like the Blue Moon Saloon’s Cajun Jam offering a venue for young Cajun artists to learn from the older crowd.
A younger audience also means a more left-leaning political bent, and though Merrifield never intended the group to get political, it has frequently poked fun at conservative figures, especially those who claim to represent Cajuns or Louisiana. Clay Higgins, the self-styled “Cajun John Wayne” who gained notoriety for his YouTube videos calling out criminals as a St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s officer, is a constant target of ridicule and ironic admiration.
Things came to a head when Merrifield noticed an uptick in memes supporting Donald Trump and pushing racist and anti-immigrant messages. Not only did they violate the UUU rules of the page, Merrifield felt such messages were anti-Cajun.
“We have our own history of oppression, and not to compare that with the oppression of any other groups, but Cajuns have suffered,” Merrifield said. “If you were anti-immigrant 200 years ago, you would have been anti-Cajun.”
Merrifield left several long, impassioned posts denouncing the racist sentiments and saying those spreading them would be kicked from the group. Now, while he still prohibits racism, he is more sheepish about the whole affair.
“If I hadn’t started the group in an election year, none of this would have happened.”
Despite forceful moderation and a happy finger over the “kick” button, the group continues to grow, faster than any other UUU offshoot group, Merrifield said. There have been offers to use the group to advertise and to buy the group from him outright, but he said it just doesn’t make sense.
“Besides,” he said, “If you started advertising on there every day, you’d see 45,000 Cajuns find that ‘leave group’ button real quick.”
Memes courtesy of Tony Blanco.