In the lulzy, agonistic, and ephemeral publics they create, memes hail people into political identities and mark them against others in turn. As a result, it’s important to know how they work—to recognize their potential for pitfalls as well as for good. This is especially true for transportation memes, which have a tendency to be both silly and pithy, fun and serious, snarky and sentimental, but also fleeting, and thus ambivalently instructive.
The Facebook group New Urbanist Memes for Transit Oriented Teens (NUMTOT) started out as a place to get weird about urban planning, but has since grown into a forum to debate the sociological and environmental effects of the state of public transportation. While the page’s official rules caution members to remember that “at the end of the day, this is just a memes group about trains,” the joking and discussion often reaches grad-school level discourse on topics like induced demand, behavioral economics, and the need for price floors.
But NUMTOT isn’t the only place where these kinds of conversations take place. Many Sanders supporters use the Facebook page PDQ America to share memes about his proposal for free public transportation and other policy initiatives. While simplifying identities and quip-sized assertions won’t solve transportation’s myriad problems, they can make it easier to identify with and become part of a movement, whether that’s the Sylt punks or Bernie Sanders. In the process, those memes can help craft a consensus about the best path forward.