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MEMES: Nascent Language of Communication

Even in these days when the world stands still, major MNCs, service providers, including the entertainment industry is unable to produce fresh content frequently, the meme maker army is at its best producing new content every moment. And it is nonchalantly being shared amongst the consumers.

Jacques Derrida’s Theory of Deconstruction can be summed up in a single phrase: “The problem of reading Derrida just is the problem of reading.” Language and its proponents are problematic and inaccurate because of our tendency to find a coherent meaning and origin in between words in a text. In this struggle, we tend to miss out the original meaning, meant to be communicated… or is there an original meaning, and if it does exist how do we determine that it is or it is not the same as the creator of the text wished to convey? It is a loop of impossibilities which brings us back to the phrase. ‘The problem of reading Derrida just is the problem of reading.’

So in between the tussle of language and meaning, time flew by and Derrida’s theory (that he himself claims to be a process of reconstruction rather than a critique) was employed in realms like literature, psychoanalysis and so on. Linguists believe that the origin of spoken language dates back to some 10000 years. Before that, humans communicated by means of natural sound around them. Today humans have come out with various other modes of communication. GIFS, emojis, stickers, etc. are ruling the digital platforms where you can respond to your peers using images, symbols and videos.

The social media world is ruled by the world wide phenomenon called memes. But what can be called as memes? In technical terms, the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of meme is — an element of a culture or system of behaviour passed from one individual to another by imitation or other non-genetic means OR an image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users, often with slight variations.

credits: Unknown

Naturally the second definition is what defines the nature of memes as we know them now. From the point of communication, our first question would be whether to consider a meme as a text? Something to be holding a specific meaning, and the answer is definitely affirmative.

Let us take a look at the first historically claimed meme that was an American symbol and that became popular during World War II. The earliest of a meme became associated with GIs in the 1940s. The meme represents a bald-headed man with a prominent nose peeking over a wall with his fingers clutching the wall.


Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Around the same time, another doodle, “Mr. Chad,” was appearing in the United Kingdom. The origin of these two graffitis is said to be another doodle called ‘Foo was here’. The true meaning behind these three doodles is still debated but whatever the case, all three of them carry the same “someone is watching” connotation. The crucial point here is the fact that the development of these three doodles was successive; whatever the precedence might be, each one inspired the other in representation.

So, the phenomenon of meme started in the pre-Internet era. The term was first coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976 in his book ‘The Selfish Gene’.  The author referred to meme as a cultural entity, something that acts as a replicator analogous to the term ‘gene’, a biological entity. While copying memes people often refine and modify memes with other memes to create new memes and they are changed further with time, carrying new meanings and contexts each time they undergo even the slightest alteration.

But what makes them so unique and engaging is also the reason of their far fledged popularity. And that is their ability to find relevance in all walks of life and most importantly to be able to convey their context with limited visual content. One meme goes out in the domain of social media platforms and within no time it gets viral. And what are the most successful memes? The ones that are the most relatable in context. The internet connectivity across the globe has made it possible for billions of people to share a common media content, also called the pop culture. The pop culture caters to the meme making community and its consumers.

credits: Know Your Meme

It won’t be wrong to say that the meme language, laden with humour and comic references has indeed emerged to be a powerful tool of communication and is yet to expand its outreach among billions of followers.

Kriti Kundu is a student pursuing Mass Communication at Jamia Millia Islamia.

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Written by Kriti Kundu

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