I can never forget how agonizingly defeated I felt when I finally gave into watching Game of Thrones. The ‘catastrophic’ incident of Jon Snow’s death had sent all my friends and colleagues to a state of collective mourning. I hadn’t seen such mass hysteria since the death of Mihir Virani in Kyun Ki Saas bhi Kabhi Bahu thi (again something I had only heard of from my friends). But, I was still not ready to take the plunge.
Finally a set of GoT “Durga Puja” memes on Facebook got me. All my Bengali friends were tagging each other. Obviously, I felt left out and I was sulking about it the whole time. After all what is Durga Puja without common things to talk about with friends.
But this joke, in particular, intrigued me.
(Translation: You are my daddy and you are my Uncle, won’t you buy me two sets of clothes for Durga Puja)
What the death of a man couldn’t do, a quirky meme hinting at the plot line of incest did (please don’t read too much into it.) And thus began my GoT journey.
That’s the thing about memes. They are witty, addictive, relatable. When you don’t understand them, it frustrates you and somewhat alienates you. But is that a good thing?
Our need to be part of a community conversation forms the bedrock of the meme culture. We tend to play along the tagging game even if these conversations are banal, doesn’t improve our life qualitatively or worse, are downright offensive.
At the same time memes have the amazing capacity of bringing out the worst kind of prejudiced behaviour in netizens. Last year’s viral racist and sexist memes exposed how easy it becomes for us to resort to bad behaviour, when we know it’s just a tagging game and our equally racist and sexist friends will not object to it (We are not sharing them here for obvious reasons).
I was recently enlightened about the possible reasons behind this phenomenon while reading a stellar piece of work by Israeli author Yuval Noah Harari. No, he was not writing about memes. His work wouldn’t be the tour-de-force it is, if he was busy scrolling through memes on his iPhone. In his book Sapiens: a brief history of humankind, he brought in the concept of memetic, as one of the many ways of explaining history – why certain kings ruled and why certain religion spread faster than others.
Here’s what he writes:
Ever more scholars see cultures as a kind of mental infection or parasite, with humans as its unwitting host. Organic parasites, such as viruses, live inside the body of their hosts…
They multiply and spread from one host to another, occasionally weakening the hosts and sometimes even killing them….According to this approach, cultures are not conspiracies concocted by some people in order to take advantage of others (as Marxists tend to think). Rather, cultures are mental parasites that emerge accidentally, and thereafter take advantage of all people infected by them...this approach is sometimes called memetic. It assumes that just as organic evolution is based on the replication of organic units called ‘genes, so cultural evolution is based on cultural information units called memes…
(The word was originally coined by in the ‘70s by Richard Dawkins)
Isn’t this how things go viral and attain meme status? Re-read this sentence: “They multiply and spread from one host to another, occasionally weakening the hosts and sometimes even killing them”. That’s how tagging and sharing works and gives birth to absolute cancerous viral stuff like this.
That was just a sample from a viral collection called “time wasting meme”.
Memes are also an excellent carrier of another kind of disease — pop culture. “Did you watch the latest episode of some godforsaken series on your idiot box, this weekend”? – That was the older version of shaming those not clued into what the rest of the world is watching. Now, you have millennials watching tons and tons of online shows, and then making memes around them, and tagging their friends who watch it, which in turn creates a community that alienates the group of friends that doesn’t watch the show. Finally, they too give in and hop on the bandwagon.
Here are a few examples of this trend.
Lord of the Rings meme
Pride and Prejudice meme
Black Mirror meme
You need to now watch all the seasons of Westworld to be able to crack that internal joke?
This is not to shame those who love watching these shows or films. But there is something pathological about people’s recreational choices, leisure activities becoming internet disease. After all making and spreading memes is NOT a real skill, doesn’t make us useful to society and you know what, it doesn’t even pay our bills.
Not just pop culture, increasingly, millennials are talking to each other, even about grave issues like depression and suicidal tendencies, through memes.
Suicide memes were a thing last year.
Now, you would ask why should this be viewed in a negative light. The answer is simple. One, as it happens with most online trends, the issues at hand are more often than not trivialised. And two, having an informed conversation on an important issue like depression is beyond the scope of a viral meme.
But the worst havoc the meme culture wrecks on our lives is that it takes away our sovereignty over our time. Just imagine the colossal amount of time we waste on scrolling through these gifs, and videos and graphics, all the in name of relatibility. And then we wonder why we find it so difficult to adult.
I can’t cringe enough every time someone shares this.
There’s absolutely nothing cute about not adulting. Period.
Just because I feel useless on a given day, why must I tell the whole world that it’s okay to be useless. Yawning is contagious. So are laziness memes. Stop spreading that disease.
Or is this a grand conspiracy to create an equal world where everyone is equally busy, lazy and useless?
Well, I can go on and on. But ONE SIMPLY DOES NOT GO ON WRITING ABOUT MEMES WHEN THEY HATE IT SO MUCH. So, Tada.