VISUAL ART – A sub-genre of memes that can be best termed as ‘chaotic – evil’, Classical art memes are the content you didn’t know your eyes and dry wit were longing for. No artist is spared – from the works of Rembrandt to more arcane painters of the 17th century, each piece has serious meme potential.
Our very own Raja Ravi Verma paintings have served as the canvas for some of the most interesting memes in this category.
Pristine miniature paintings from the Mughal era when combined with the power of millennial humour have left us scarred.
A BROADER PERSPECTIVE – Apart from the very refined art memes, major historical tragedies have become the butt of internet jokes too. Colonization, Pompeii and The Boston Tea Party have all allowed dark humour to come to the fore.
Zooming into this oeuvre with a keen eye on the Indian context, we see that vernacular literature and satirical takes on reformations and political climates too played an indispensable role.
“The Sufi Saint Kabir and The Bhakti movement that attacked caste hierarchies critiqued the difference between high ideals espoused by religion and its distortion in practice through satiric prose and poems.”
– Contagious memes, viral videos and subversive parody: The grammar of contention on the Indian web, Sangeet Kumar
THE 90s: “MOM, DO MY PHANTOM CIGARETTES MAKE ME LOOK BADASS?” – Looking at this era from the POV of a 90’s kid, we see flashes of the glory days of MTV. Lola Kutty (Anuradha Menon), Cyrus Broacha and Nikhil Chinappa played the role of VJs with a sky rocketing coolness quotient. New and shiny PC games had us glued to our screens in complete frenzy and shows like Shaktimaan and Shaka Laka Boom Boom left us perennially awestruck.
Now you may ask – How in the world are memes a part of this nostalgia fuelled ride? Simply look at the possibilities around you and you shall find a multitude of memes. Even the most absurd soap operas that were carried forward and celebrated in the 2000s have been altered into memes due to their campy storylines and baffling audio-visual effects (and that’s great!). This helps in the convergence of different parties.
According to Henry Jenkins, “the word ‘convergence’ refers to technological, industrial, cultural and social changes. After all, convergence culture is where old media and new media collide.” As one medium is slowly replaced, so can stories be told in more innovative ways. This new way of storytelling can be referred to as a “narrational mode”.
Viewers pay great attention to the content laid out in front of them and make it their own with humour, allowing creativity to thrive. The same follows for homemade viral videos. They engage people who appreciate how simple and relatable they are in contrast to the highly scripted dramas that one becomes accustomed to watching on the idiot box.
“This leads to a somewhat surprising conclusion: “bad” texts make “good” memes in contemporary participatory culture. Since the logic of contemporary participatory culture is based on the active involvement of users, incompleteness serves as a textual hook for further dialogue, and for the successful spread of the meme. Thus, the ostensibly unfinished, unpolished, amateur-looking, and even weird video invites people to fill in the gaps, address the puzzles, or mock its creator.”
– Memes in Digital Culture, Limor Shifman.
And how exactly did memes come about in the Indian scene? In order to map their rise, it’s important that we pay heed to India during the tech boom of the 90s.
The Internet came to India in 1995 and by the year 1998, we witnessed the emergence of chatrooms and discussions that began with a simple ‘a/s/l’ confession. The dawn of the new millennium also brought with it a new era of memes and innovative ways in which they were looked at by the Indian market.
CAPITALIZING ON CRINGE: DAWN OF THE 2000s – Certainly not the most tastefully artistic memes (for that you will have to escort yourself back to the Obscure Classical Memes section), the 2000s were home to the scarring line drawings – popularly known as ‘Rage Comics – that became a sensation on sites like 9gag and 4chan.
For a quick run through of those memes that you probably don’t need: knowyourmeme.com/memes/subcultures/rage-comics.
The 2000s were also the days of vampy television characters and the K3G craze. The film industry served new meme content on shiny aarti platters. A quick nod to all Sooraj Barjatya films, Kareena Kapoor’s early acting career, cinema gold such as ‘Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon’, ‘Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag’ and ‘Prem Aggan’ along with several hundred more that were later covered in Kanan Gill’s ‘Pretentious Movie Reviews’. Everything we covertly indulged in and publicly ridiculed about the 90’s was back for good in the 00’s.
“Political parody and satire on the Indian web today are embedded within a larger media ecology of social satire and news parody shows on television such as The Week That Wasn’t, 2G, Gustakhi Maaf, The Great Indian Tamasha as well as stand up comedy shows such as Comedy Nights with Kapil, The Great Indian Comedy Show, The Great Indian Laughter Challenge. These shows have created a broader popular culture of satirical critique and professionalized the field of comedians opening up careers as solo artists (groups such as The East India Comedy Club). India’s memetic digital culture is better understood in this broader context of a culture of social and political humour both ancient and modern.”
– Contagious memes, viral videos and subversive parody: The grammar of contention on the Indian web, Sangeet Kumar.
FILMS – Did I hear the words ‘cult following’? Two radiant examples of it are ‘The Room’ – 2003 (and it’s parodical remake starring James Franco: ‘The Disaster Artist’ – 2017) as well as ‘Bee Movie’ (2007). This genre of ‘very good bad films’ are most certainly an acquired taste.
2010s – WHATSAPP FORWARDS BECOME UNESCO NEWSLETTERS – Was this the golden age of meme machinery?
The 2010s were a tumultuous decade to say the least. From the blaring tunes of ‘What Does the Fox Say’ to ‘Gangnam Style’ and ‘Friday’, musical memes were basking in the limelight.
This decade was responsible for the creation of dance moves we didn’t think our bodies were capable of doing justice to, such as vigorously twerking to the Harlem Shake and allowing ‘Baby Shark’ to garner over 5 Billion views on YouTube alone (no, this is not a joke, I repeat, THIS IS NOT A JOKE!)
A sarcastic doge meme helped shed a more critical gaze on popular trends like the ‘Mannequin Challenge’ and fanatics that had acquired a taste for tide pods.
I would like to dedicate the Confused Math Lady meme (circa 2013) as an appropriate response to the feeling this decade invoked in all of us.
Additional topics from this decade that one should touch upon:
WHATSAPP FORWARDS – An often overlooked subset of memes, WhatsApp forwards are the direct link the older generations share with memes (no offense!) This subsequently led to memes of WhatsApp messages, like the daily good morning texts we graciously receive on our family chat groups and rarely acknowledge.
MEMEVERTISING – Popular brand accounts you follow on Instagram and Twitter have climbed the meme making bandwagon as well. Netflix, Durex, Zomato to name a few of the prominent ones. An interesting market strategy that speaks to most of its online viewer-base, memevertising is a great example of brands capitalizing on comedic tropes and making their social media accounts seem less calculated. TWITTER-WORSE – Unsafe to say, this decade was the time when Indian memes snatched away the global spotlight. Were we being laughed at or with? Twitter was reigning over its contemporaries and accounts like ‘Pakalu Papito’ gained tons of traction. Relatable twitter humour and popular hashtags made digital contributions to such topics an easy task. Shashi Tharoor became the golden boy of twitter, condensing his verbosity to intimidate you within a 140-character limit. Certain celebrities were chided to no end for their public goof-ups and their YouTube singing edits quickly amassed an inordinate number of likes. Indian comedy channels on YouTube were able to monetize their content and PewDiePie became a fervently worshipped entity. In order to check out some stellar meme content from this era: https://www.bingedaily.in/desi-memes-that-took-the-internet-by-storm-this-decade.
Besides, Twitter is to Indian web what 9pm debates are to Indian television – switch spokespersons with hashtags and witness the terrifyingly similar wavelength of political discourse. And no wonder, Twitter is one of the largest sources of memetic traffic in India.
“India’s memetic culture is driven by its staggering Twitter population of 33 million that is second only to China’s 35.5 million globally (Lipman, 2013). This despite India lagging far behind in overall internet penetration and users (238,000,000) in comparison to China (538,000,000) and the United States (245,203,319).
And yet, by allowing common citizens to speak directly (tweet) to those in power, Twitter has also undeniably functioned to erase distances, albeit in a confined and circumscribed digital domain, within India’s historically entrenched political and social structures. Responses to common tweeters from government ministers and officials, rare as they may be, mark a symbolic shift within political accountability in the country.”
– Contagious memes, viral videos and subversive parody: The grammar of contention on the Indian web, Sangeet Kumar.
TERRIFICLY ESOTERIC: BANNED MEMES – Here’s controversial content at its finest. Sites like Reddit not only deserve credit for their niche memes and dark humour the hue of vanta-black but also for the role they have played in involving the masses in political issues. Going back to the 2016 US Presidential elections when the world was tossed into thinking of Donald Trump, Pepe the frog and white supremacists under a single breath.
Or when CAA protests in India merged the impassioned political climate with art and witticism. (https://www.scoopwhoop.com/news/millennials-are-bringing-their-memes-to-the-protests-against-caa-and-nrc/)
OTHER SIGNIFICANT MEME MOMENTS – Time to have a look at content that’s capable of leaving the world’s most prominent political leaders triggered:
A link to Putin memes he wouldn’t want you admiring: https://blog.hidemyass.com/en/putin-memes-banned-russia.
The EU’s controversial ‘meme ban’ with repercussions deadlier than Brexit: https://www.wired.co.uk/article/what-is-article-13-article-11-european-directive-on-copyright-explained-meme-ban.
Kim Jong Un’s troubling insecurities that made him put a ban on sarcasm: https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2016/09/kim-jong-un-prohibits-sarcasm.html.
China’s growing fear of Winnie The Pooh: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/07/china-bans-winnie-the-pooh-film-to-stop-comparisons-to-president-xi
2012 WALKED so 2020 COULD RUN – Are you finally regretting all those 2020 vision memes?
A look at what your landlocked self has witnessed on the internet in the past few weeks. https://www.trendingus.com/trending-memes-india/
THE INDOMITABLE RISE OF TIK-TOK – Earlier known as ‘Musical.ly’, this site has been through it all, from being temporarily banned in India to being sued over child-privacy issues. ‘Cringe content’ has become another successful sub-genre that has found itself an eager fan base and we’re probably going to see more of it in the years to come.
And as for what the world has been like (in memes) lately, here goes nothing: