Twenty five years ago, American attorney Mike Godwin came up with the notion of the internet meme. But 17 years even before that (1976 if you don’t want to do the math), the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins coined the word in his book The Selfish Gene to represent a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices that can be shared by one person to another through mediums like writing, speech, gestures, rituals and so on.
Today, memes have become a democratic form of art. Making note of how memes have changed the way people communicate now, TIFA Working Studios have organised a series of events called Meme Regime to understand how memes are shaping the world.
A submission forum is currently open to collect some of the best memes that people can post on social media with the hashtag #memeregimeTIFA till September 5. The selected memes will be put on display at an exhibition on September 7. There will also be a panel discussion on the same day where speakers will be talking about topics like the demand and supply of memes on the internet, their use in commentary over society and politics, the ethics of making and sharing memes, and so on.
But before all of this, we caught up with two panelists.
Shubhi Dixit aptly calls herself a meme connoisseur because she enjoys them, creates them, shares them and reads and researches about them. “There is a certain degree of anonymity available on the internet. If you want to say something in a subtle manner and not be prosecuted for it, memes make it possible. If I want to share my opinion about something which is a bitter pill to swallow for my friends who will see it, I can share it in a meme format, so the humour can provide a soft landing for a hardcore opinion,” says she, adding that this is possible for individuals who are not public figures, to do.
When brands share memes, it’s a different story — they have to be wary of offending people, and if their posts give anyone a bad taste, they have to take it down before it causes a ruckus.
Dixit shares that she relates with the concept of memes. “I share the same kind of humour that memes offer. Memes make a shift in topic possible. The memes that go viral have an element of relatability as well as surprise at the same time and that is something that even a funny comic strip cannot do,” says she.
Memes add to the culture of ‘inside jokes’. “I can share a meme that is related to the joke I probably shared with my friends a week ago, and nobody will understand what I’m talking about apart from the friends I shared the previous joke with. Because it comes with a funny pictorial element, I can get away with saying a few things I wouldn’t usually say online,” says she.
Memes have taken over the world, there’s no doubt in that. Be it a five year old or a fifty year old, everyone’s laughing at memes, if not becoming one themselves. But where do we go from here?
“Memes have a long way to go. Lots of things are possible. I see a lot of meme-making competitions happening, possibly festivals to celebrate this kind of humour too. There will be books and this can even develop into a series of anthropology works. Memes have immense scope, we have just scratched the surface,” she says.
He prefers to call himself a meme boi. Ask him what it stands for and he will look you straight in the eye and say, “It’s something fancy I made up.” For a struggling stand-up comedian, Shah’s got his ‘straight face’ act in line. “It means I’m into memes. I follow a whole lot of meme pages and I know a lot about meme culture, meme types and meme concepts. So basically, I have a lot of meme knowledge,” he explains.
Shah also runs a meme handle called Mutual Fund Memes on Instagram. “I make my own content. I set up the account two years ago, but I was very interested in memes even before that,” he says.
As a budding comedian, he claims to be attracted to memes because they are funny, and they do help him come up with content for his stand-up acts.
The difference between standing up on the stage and telling a joke and memes is that of the medium. If you’re telling a joke, you’re using speech and gestures, a meme is a joke in the form of a picture and text.
Everyone on social media knows what a meme is — or at least they’ve come across a meme and probably laughed at it even if they didn’t know it is called a meme. Memes can range from frivolous to thought-provoking. But can we classify memes as an art form already?
Shah believes so. “Those who have grown up laughing at memes, sharing and referring to them even in general conversation, will agree that it is a form of art. Earlier, people used to forward jokes to each other on text messages. When they had the option of sending images, they came up with a new format of presenting the joke. The same thing happened with videos and Gifs with the rise of social media,” says the BA final year student at Nowrosjee Wadia College.
He spends his day looking forward to coming across “dank” memes and feels that the world would be drab without them. His love for memes has helped him connect with like-minded people.
ST READER SERVICE
People can post memes created by them on Instagram and Facebook with the hashtag #memeregimeTIFA till September 5. Selected memes will be displayed at the exhibition held on September 7. The panel discussion will also be held on the same day at 4 pm. The event is free and open to all