- We caught up with the Montreal meme queen behind the popular Instagram account @jean.paul.fartre.
- Below, she answers our questions about meme culture, local Instagram fame, and her inspiration.
Having an Instagram famous meme account is often about creating content that resonates with people and just a little bit of luck. We have a few Instafamous meme queens that call our city home, but perhaps no Montreal meme account is more scathingly snarky than @jean.paul.fartre. The brain behind the operation is Toronto-native Kate McQuade; her meme account is one of the most well-known in Montreal, a city she has called home for three years.
McQuade's meme account was, at first, a way for her to share her content with close friends.
But when random people started to find her account, @jean.paul.fartre quickly become an overnight sensation, amassing over 24,000 followers.
"The first meme I made that resonated with a lot of people was one I genuinely thought no one world relate to because it's about me," says McQuade.
"It was one of those starter pack memes — 'when your parents didn't want children so they raised you as a mini-adult.'
Because I fully was that jackass who showed up to first year with a bitter's set and would order negronis at bars.
I was also heavily into the New Atheist Movement at the time so you can only imagine the kind of asshole I was."
These days, McQuade is more focused on finishing her political science degree and her leftist zine, Nice In Theory.
Though her meme account is still very active, she's stepped back from Instafame.
"Looking back on those starter pack memes, a lot of them weren't that funny but I guess that's how everyone feels about old stuff they've made," says McQuade.
Was making memes something that you always wanted to do?
If I had thought that, it would've been so bad! I think it was the fact that I believed no one was looking made me kinda put everything that came to my mind on that page.
Did anyone inspire you to make memes?
I saw accounts like @gothshakira and others that were posting about mental health issues.
For a long time, I really didn't like memes because the ones I grew up with were those "can I haz a cheezburger" memes or those really deeply misogynistic or racist ones on Reddit.
When I saw those Instagram meme accounts in my first year of university, seeing a representation of how I felt mental health-wise was a really comforting and validating thing.
That's why I got so into it because there was a gap in representation that those accounts were filling.
Recently, a lot of your work is politically charged. Is that inspired by your experiences in school?
Yes and no. I'm a political science major, so it comes from readings I'm doing and a lot of it comes from things I wish I could say to people in my classes!
I'm a rather political person in day-to-day life, too. I would say I’m a Marxist but there’s not one political strain I overly identify with.
It's difficult to put politics and social issues into memes because no matter what, you can never really capture the nuance of the subject.
People always message me saying "oh, you didn't account for this" but it's not easy putting things in meme form while trying to be funny.
Walk us through the process of making a meme. Where do you find your inspiration and do you ever prepare your memes in advance?
It sounds bad, but a lot of my memes come out of anger. Especially those political ones! Most of them just come at the moment from what I see.
The rolled-up hats meme that went viral last fall, for example, was when I was at Bar Le Ritz and all the dudes had those beards and rolled up hats and I couldn't stop laughing about it.
Preparation is not a thing! In the past, I would put more work in because I was getting a lot of followers and plan them out but now it's very much whenever I think something is funny.
Now that you have a following, does it matter how often you post?
Thing is, I never went into it to get followers. I really don't give a shit if I lose followers because it's going to happen no matter what.
I have to admit that I have put it on my resume, though! So I'm a little dependant on that for potential jobs.
If you pick up on meme trends, you pick up a lot more followers. I kinda did that with those starter pack memes but so many of them weren't funny.
I notice a lot of accounts do that but I wasn't going to for the sake of followers.
Most accounts are doing the same thing and I'm fully guilty of being a part of that.
These days, though it doesn't bode well with followers, I love memes that make fun of meme culture.
Really, any meme account that takes itself too seriously is fucking ridiculous.
Do you get a lot of backlash or hate from the memes you post?
When I first started I would get hate mail every day. "You're glorifying mental illness," "die commie scum," fun stuff like that.
A lot of Libertarians actually message me saying "you stupid bitch, the invisible hand is real!" which I just love.
The time I got the most hate mail was when I reposted someone else's content that was referring to non-sex workers and it used the term "civilians."
A lot of pro-army types flooded my DMs about "how dare I use that term" and just filled with slurs and misogynistic comments and it was quite overwhelming.
Do you feel a responsibility to respond to backlash and comments?
Of course! It's kind of one of the reasons I've had to let go of the account a bit. There's a lot of pressure when people are messaging you about politics, mental health, feminist issues.
There's always a misunderstanding with my content — people not understanding its satire, for example.
I spent so much time focused on people understanding my intention behind the meme account and almost trying to control how people perceive it.
At a certain point, you have to let go or it will drive you fucking crazy!
It was one thing when it was a couple hundred people or a couple thousand followers but now I can't fathom messaging every person and explain things to them.
I'd be on my phone all the time and I'd be more stressed than I am now.
Do you think that memes and Instagram are killing important discourse?
I don't think so. It's becoming way more fluid. There's this fundamental gap between "academic" content and ourselves.
Memes allow you to take all these scary and inaccessible concepts and make them more accessible. They're a nice gateway to politics and mental health discourse.
@ripannanicolesmith is the best for that because she combines heavy academic theory with Legally Blonde.
It's not dumbing it down in any way, but it's making it less scary for people to interact with.
There's this whole different cultural horizon and potential and I think that's amazing.
"Politics and academia are so happy to have their little bubble and I think memes and Internet culture kind of open that bubble up to everyone," says McQuade.
McQuade is now trying to slowly transition out of Instagram and create other platforms to help reconcile the disconnect between lofty concepts and the average person.
"Even if Instagram was deleted, I would never shut up!"
This year, she founded a leftist zine called Nice In Theory which is currently accepting submissions for its first issue.