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Emerson College meme spreads to schools around Boston

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  October 31, 2011 01:00 PM

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(Emerson Kid Lion images by Katie DeWitt, BU Kid Terrier images by M.E. Francis.)

Emerson Kid Lion has spawned at least two new memes at local universities. Are more to come?

On the Internet, things move fast. In two short weeks this fall, an inside joke between a handful of college freshman spread across their campus and morphed into other forms at schools around the city.

It began in the early morning hours of Oct. 3, when Emerson College freshman Katie DeWitt and three friends combined an image of their school mascot with humorous observations about campus idiosyncrasies and created Emerson Kid Lion. By the end of the next week, a Boston University sophomore had built a Tumblr blog for BU Kid Terrier, which was swiftly followed by a Suffolk University student’s creation of Suffolk Kid Ram.

There’s no sign yet of a BC Kid Eagle, a Northeastern Kid Husky, or a Harvard Kid John Harvard (Harvard Kid Crimson?), but they may not be far behind.

“I haven’t heard of anything other than BU and Suffolk … but it’s possible,” said DeWitt, 18, in a phone interview. “I think it’d be great. … I just think it’s cool that something like that would start out at Emerson, ’cause we’re just such a social media school.”

For DeWitt, campus fame has led to more than 100 new Facebook friends, many knowing glances in the hallways between classes, and a guest appearance on “Closing Time Live,” a nighttime talk show on the campus television network.

M.E. Francis, the creator of BU Kid Terrier, hasn’t attracted as much attention yet, partly due to the vast differences between the two schools. With a much larger campus and about 18,500 undergraduates to Emerson’s 3,500, Boston University isn’t the kind of place where it’s possible for everyone to know each other or share the same inside jokes.

Francis, a junior from Arlington, Va., who will turn 20 this weekend, is studying film and television in the university’s college of communications, with the goal of becoming a film editor. She had long been a fan of the various advice animal memes, so when she saw Emerson Kid Lion images posted on the Facebook page of a friend who attends the college, she decided BU needed one.

“I dropped all my homework and I instantly began working on it,” she said in an interview Monday. With help from her roommate, Eliot Reininger, a sophomore linguistics major, Francis began putting together images with slogans reflecting the trials and amusements of attending BU.

BU Kid Terrier has more than 250 followers on its Tumblr blog, and Francis has received positive feedback from other students, she said, but so far hasn’t begun receiving suggestions for new slogans, though new ideas from Emerson students have been pouring into DeWitt’s inbox. Francis hopes her classmates will start contributing ideas to help keep the meme going and make it relevant to students across the university.

“I’m creative, but only to a point,” Francis said with a chuckle. “I’d like some more people to help me think of new ideas. … I’m in one college; I don’t know inside jokes from other schools or other areas of study or other locations on campus.”

She thinks it’s good for students in such a large school to be able to share common jokes and experiences. Blogs like hers and another called That’s So BU help build a sense of community among those thousands and thousands of students, she said, and connect the students on campus today to alumi and students studying abroad.

DeWitt likes BU Kid Terrier and appreciates that Francis contacted her when she launched the character and credited Emerson Kid Lion on her blog as its inspiration. But DeWitt and her classmates are less enthusiastic, she said, about the Suffolk University meme, because its creator remains anonymous and hasn’t acknowledged DeWitt’s creation, and because some of the images recycle slogans taken from the Emerson meme.

“It’s kind of seen as more of a joke to Emerson people,” DeWitt said.

She was bothered, she said, by an image that took a slogan she had used to mock Emerson students’ smoking habits — “Walk past LB [Little Building]. Lung cancer.” — and reused the slogan, substituting a Suffolk campus building.

“I posted it on Emerson Kid Lion; I was like, ‘Really? You’re seriously just going to rip us off like that?’” DeWitt said.

The creator of Suffolk Kid Ram, a 19-year-old Suffolk University sophomore from Wakefield, Mass., said in an interview on campus Tuesday that he didn’t create that particular image. The student asked that his identity be protected because he fears harassment by angry Emerson students. He said only six people know he is the creator.

Of the approximately 60 Suffolk Kid Ram images posted on QuickMeme.com, the site where he set up the template for anyone to use, he said about 40 were his creations, 10 were those of other Suffolk students, and 10 were those of Emerson students retaliating against slogans attacking Emerson.

That kind of “anarchy,” DeWitt said, is why she has chosen not to publicly release the template for Emerson Kid Lion. She wants to maintain quality control over the images, ensuring that they meet her standards of humor and relevance and that they aren’t too repetitive or offensive.

The Suffolk student denied copying DeWitt’s creation, saying he didn’t actually get the idea for his meme from Emerson Kid Lion, but from a lesser-known offshoot, Berklee Kid Cat.

“I saw the Emerson one first, I’m like, ‘OK, that’s funny. They have their own thing; I understand. You probably can’t do that with another school,’” he explained. “And then on my friend’s Facebook — he goes to Berklee — and I saw he made one for Berklee, and I’m looking at it like, ‘OK, maybe you can do that with other schools.’”

The Berklee student did not respond to an interview request. He apparently has only shared Berklee Kid Cat images with friends on Facebook.

Anyway, the Suffolk student said, all the college mascot memes derive from the hugely popular Advice Dog, so no one can claim originality. He also believes there’s a certain commonality between the Emerson images.

“All the Emersons are basically the same,” he said. “It’s like, ‘A lot of our students are gay and smoke cigarettes, and we’re all theater majors. Ha ha, Emerson.’”

Email Jeremy C. Fox at jeremycfox@gmail.com.
Follow Jeremy C. Fox on Twitter: @jeremycfox.
Follow Downtown on Twitter: @DowntownUpdate.

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(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)

Boston University junior M.E. Francis created BU Kid Terrier.

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