Gone Viral: Complicating Buzzfeed's "College Student"

Curator's Note

“College should be a special time. Everyone should make the most of it.” These are the last two lines that appear at the end of the viral video clip created by Buzzfeed, “15 Experiences Everyone Should Have in College.” The clip reveals a list of various activities and behaviors (e.g. “Have a one night stand without any shame.”) that college students should strive to experience. While I agree with the overall sentiment to make the most out of one’s college experience, I am speculative when it comes to the representation of the college experience and, more specifically, the depiction of the “college student.” I began ruminating on two thoughts: how the “college student” is conveyed in the clip and the ways viral media, as an information flow, can aid in the propagation of such depictions.

The 15 seemingly unrelated experiences share a few connections or enabling assumptions that underpin the anatomy of the “college student” embodied in the clip. One assumption speaks to the economic status of the “college student.” Experiences such as studying abroad or travelling to and from one’s hometown connects the depiction to a privileged economic standing. The imagined “college student’s” socio-political standing is further fleshed out with their ability to engage in political movements; an experience that many college students cannot lawfully engage in. The last assumption of the “college student” permeates each experience: the student is depicted as being socially extroverted. The depiction of the “college student” is reductive and uncharacteristic of the college student population as a whole. In fact, when considering the various enabling assumptions characterizing the “college student” it is evident that those experiences are accessible to a limited, small population of students.

With this preliminary analysis in mind, I am interested in why these portrayals of the “college student” catapult into a viral frenzy—a frenzy that has enough impact to influence and regulate social behaviors and perceptions. What affordances do these depictions provide and to whom? How much of the college experience/student is dictated by viral media than vice versa?

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