The Social Currency of Memes
You've been living under a rock if you are not aware of memes (we're judging you). Because anyone who has access to any kind of social media is exposed to them whether or not they are aware of them being 'memes' is a different thing which is a calculated attack on boomers. Nearly everyone has had some exposure to memes, be it on Instagram or Twitter or as a WhatsApp forward on a family group, people across sections of society, class and age have consumed meme content through one platform or another. For the older generation it may still be a ‘joke’, which it essentially is, but for the Gen-Z and Y who have grown up with them, there is a whole established ‘meme culture’ that people engage with almost every single day of their lives.
Memes are small templates based on snippets taken from different events/occurrences from any aspect of society and culture that are then emblazoned with a punchline. Memes have a vast context to themselves, and are often generated for specific groups and communities that may identify with or have context of the event they refer to. Unlike a common joke, a meme is a snippet of culture in itself. It’s almost literary in the fact that it has layers of context and metaphors embedded in it.
Memes have now become a part of our cultural vocabulary as a generation. The fact that it envelops everything from politics to culture makes the awareness and the knowledge of memes almost a kind of cultural competence for the youth. Besides, memes are no your daily Whatsapp forward jokes anymore, they have becomes subjects of studies, courtesy of the staggering influence they have.
Political memes is a genre that has exponentially grown in potential and has had a certain amount of influence in all elections, even if it is limited to raising awareness itself. During the Delhi Elections of 2020, Aaam Admi Party had resorted to using various meme templates as a part of their PR. Whether or not it aided their win is a topic for deeper study, but what is striking is the fact that memes can serve deeper purposes other than just bringing out giggles or be used in a culture reference face-off. This is obviously also due to the fact that social media in itself is an integral part of our lives in this century, and memes are just by-products of that ecosystem. Yet their own importance and influence make them interesting topics for study.
Furthermore, memes can be speculated to have an effect of generalisation on society as well. An important question that arises with the conversation around the meme culture is how much it influences its consumers. To quote an example, 2020 saw a surge of memes based on a popular TV soap called ‘Saath Nibhana Saathiya’. The memes were centered around a particular clip from the show which featured Kokila Ben yelling at her daughters-in-law (Rashi and Gopi) about an incident that involved one of them having thrown out the ‘chane’ or chickpeas the food being cooked. This clip that resurfaced because of a viral remixing done by Instagramer/Musician Yashraj Mukhate, led to the ‘Rasode Mein Kon Tha’ meme. This meme featured in different templates of KBC questions, and the Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham template of ‘Guess Karo Ham Kahan Hai’ as well. But to actually comprehend thise meme and revel, one needs cultural context of the North Indian soap opera on which it is based on.
Other than memes custom-made for specific communities, there are globally famous memes such as the Bernie Sanders, ‘I Am Once Again Asking You’ meme, or the Sanders Mitten Meme, the Drake meme, Doge meme. It is almost as if the meme is a code, a language in itself, some of which are specific to regions and communities while others pertain to a larger audience.
However, there are some memes that are hilarious irrespective of their context. This can be achieved by either using a template that is inherently funny, such as the Woman Yelling At Cat, Am I A Joke To You, I’m About to End this Man’s Whole Career, Drake Naruto Run, are all templates that can be adjusted to all contexts and they will be funny nonetheless. They can be socially reproduced to any extent while retaining and reinventing their humour simultaneously.
It is safe to say that like any code or language, memes have become an essential tool of communication in our generation. Where the knowledge and contextual awareness of the same adds to the overall experience of our lives not just on social media, but in real life as well.