Memes have taken the virtual world by storm in the last decade. All that youngsters do now, somehow has memes in it. They can be on any topic and in any form. They can also be seen in every domain of business; brands, advertisements, political parties, social media influencers and even law enforcing bodies. Their witty, gritty, funny, and often sarcastic content is ideal for a world battling dwindling attention spans. Where memes are taken as a boon for the social entertainment industry, they can be equally lethal too if misused and misunderstood.
The word “meme” dates back to 1976, when biologist Richard Dawkins published the book The Selfish Gene, in which memes originally represented ideas, behaviours, and styles that go viral within a society or in a biological environment or system. Digital memes act similarly, as people share them on the internet on different social media platforms.
Today, memes have taken every domain of business by a storm; brands, advertisements, political parties, social media influencers and even law enforcing bodies. Memes are virtually transmitted remixed images with a few words that prod fun at cultural or social norms and can change their meaning multiple times through further sharing, editing, and remixing. They also act as a sensitive benchmark to public opinions. Having their origins in the likes of puns, cartoons, and internet slang, memes are sarcastic and have the ability to transfigure a message or idea completely. They can release stress through light-hearted humour, connect people with similar opinions and give exposure to sabotaged issues using humour in an easy-to-spread format. Memes are often viewed as a thin form of entertainment, at best funny; overused at worst. Memes spread across the internet and social media like fire. They are used to express thoughts on personal, social, as well as, professional life. We understand images faster than text, and we respond faster to them. But they are not plain visual gags; they always have a hidden joke. To discern why it is funny, a meme requires thought. That is its real superpower; visibility, easy transmission, mental application, and thought.
Another salient use of memes is to defuse tension. The fun coated, serious political statements allow people to talk about those topics that normally wouldn’t be talked about explicitly. The power of diffusing something very serious via humour makes memes stand out as a mode of communication. They even capture a set of emotions and come with a lot of different understandings, in a limited set of words, which people well-versed in Internet Culture understand thoroughly. You can save words in a lot of ways while communicating through memes. They act like macro emoticons. The ability to quickly create shareable imagery and propagate it to millions of people within a matter of minutes makes them really handy. They are used to express surprise, disappointment, excitement, happiness, scepticism, etcetera. What distinguishes them from other forms of visual artefacts is the strong emotions embedded in them. Memes are highly subjective. They do not age well; most of them evaporate within days, but the point they make can leave a lasting impact on society and politics. It generates activism; when the internet allows people to post memes, it also gives them sufficient power to practice activism. People use memes to communicate on different topics. In countries with excessive censorship, memes can gain an even higher value as people throw them into public conversations to show resistance and oppose corruption. But similarly, this feature comes with a disadvantage, as it allows corrupt people to use the same force of using memes to manipulate people and promote ugly and evil ideas.
We have seen the police in Kerala, Bengaluru, Mumbai, and many other cities, judiciously making use of memes to spread awareness in a catchy way. Marketing agencies have also hopped on the meme bandwagon to reach a wider audience at much lower expenses. Even political parties use memes to take digs at their rival parties. Making memes has become a serious business for many people and has a lot to offer to them. Memes’ witty, gritty, funny, and often sarcastic content is ideal for a world battling dwindling attention spans.
Despite being funny and making people relate on little things in life and connect with each other, they can not unite people into communities if other ties do not exist. They are highly tempting like fast food but are low in nutritional value, that is, the news agenda. Hence you always need a decent meal; credible and legit news sources, to nurture your mind. Experts warn that misinformation turns into memes as well. Like most information on the internet, memes need to be scrutinized too and consumed with a lot of precautions and care. Memes, when used for trolling, can be lethal. When a person is trolled, we question ourselves whether this viral shaming was ethical and if the person deserved it. Memes can easily turn futile and soon fatal, damaging people’s reputations and state of mind overnight. You never know at what point does a cosy inside joke of your friends’ group becomes a lethally impactful comment on someone else’s personal life and choices, causing them social and mental distress. Hence, being careful while feeding our minds with information on the internet through illegitimate memes, is all we can keep an eye out for now; for we just know that memes are an influential communicative tool for our society and that they are here to stay.
Sara Mirza is a student pursuing French Honours from Aligarh Muslim University.
Edited by: Umar Farooque Shaikh
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.