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Reading into it: Origins of the Stanford x Cal fan art and why it means a lot to me

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If my friends were to describe me in one word, it would probably be “meme.” I post frequently in our Facebook group for memes, Stanford Memes for Edgy Trees (SMFET), and I love learning about the origin and spread of viral Internet trends. If you’re a member of that group, a spinoff from its UC Berkeley counterpart, then you have no doubt seen the latest trend of Stanford x Cal fan art: drawings of our anthropomorphized universities in a romantic or erotic context. 

While other people have expressed their disgust with these drawings with comments like “this makes me irrationally angry and I don’t know why” or “really wish I didn’t have eyes rn,” I quite like the fan art for reasons I’ll describe soon.

But how did this trend originate? I did some “research,” which is code for a lot of scrolling through social media platforms, and what follows is my best guess at how we got here.

On June 30, a Reddit user posted an original drawing on the subreddits for both the University of Toronto and the University of Waterloo with the titles “I did this for us” and “Uwaterloo x UofT tsundere,” respectively. Tsundere is a trope in anime or manga which describes when one character initially expresses animosity toward another, but eventually becomes friendly, and in cases like this, romantic. Similar posts on Reddit soon spread about other Canadian universities including the University of Ottawa and the University of Western Ontario.

The rival university fan art trend then made its way from Reddit to Facebook. Some of the images from Canadian universities were initially reposted in The Ivy League Meme Consortium, the college meme group for the Ivy League, but did not enjoy success, probably because they didn’t feature any schools in the conference. That changed on July 5, when art by a user named bnbndog was posted in the consortium. Bnbndog’s art featured Harvard and MIT as the subjects and amassed over 1,200 reactions on the post. 

The trend arrived on the Farm the next day with a post in both the Stanford and UC Berkeley meme groups, which together topped 2,000 reactions. After that, the trend exploded, with over two dozen drawings, several short stories known as fanfiction (which unfortunately you need to be a member of the group to read), memes making fun of all the fan art, a reaction video and this article you’re reading now.

While this trend has gotten its fair share of angry reactions on Facebook, I really enjoy them for a couple of reasons. First, these drawings are incredibly detailed and showcase the talent and creativity of artists from both sides of the Bay. Details ranging in subtlety from AirPods, eye colors that match school colors, bear ears and tree hair pins highlight the effort put into some of these drawings.

But more importantly, it shows the two schools in a non-competitive setting. I will admit I brought a sign to the Big Game my freshman year with “Cal was my safety school” written on it, but the longer I’ve been a student, the more I realize how excellent of a school Cal is. 

Two years later, when frosh at the Big Game started chanting “safety school” at the opposing student section, I shook my head in embarrassment. There’s no doubt that Stanford is a wealthier institution, both in the backgrounds of the students that enroll and in the resources that can be offered to students (I only benefit from the latter since I don’t come from a wealthy family). However, given this disparity, you have to admit that Cal is punching above its weight class when it competes with us. 

Outside of athletics, I don’t see the point of competing at all. When it comes to research, hackathons or similar endeavors, the goal should be the improvement of either public knowledge or personal skills. There’s a lot more our two universities could accomplish together than when we’re only focused on beating each other.

This is what comes to my mind when I see the Stanford x Cal fan art. At the end of the day, we’re all college students trying to make friends, do well in school, figure out what we want to do for the rest of our lives and now navigate a pandemic. Sometimes I wish our schools were closer because I rarely get to meet Cal students, who I’m sure are just as thoughtful and caring as Stanford students (and because the dating pool at Stanford is kinda small). 

Until the San Andreas Fault pushes our school dozens of miles to the north, I’m stuck repeating the words of the band War: “why can’t we be friends?”

Contact Michael Espinosa at mesp2021 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Michael Espinosa '21 is majoring in international relations. He's the head of The Daily's social media team, and editor for the University beat and also occasionally writes about other topics for sports, arts, and The Grind. He's the biggest Taylor Swift fan at Stanford and the proudest New Yorker you will ever meet. Contact him at mesp2021 'at' stanford.edu.