Meme by the minute

Jul 22, 2012, 07:57 IST | Moeena Halim

Like a girl? Had a quarrel with a friend? Hated a movie? Today, there's a meme for every occasion and emotion, and it's flooding your Facebook feed like never before. As Indian meme characters hit the scene and social media-savvy youngsters spend hours creating their own memes, a mania of a different sort has taken hold

A friend of mine has a biometric security system at home; you have to punch your thumbprint before you’re allowed to enter. One day she had a bandage around her thumbs and so she couldn’t enter her house at all,” laughs Pranav Tonseker. This was such an unusually funny situation that the 21 year-old just had to make a meme about it and share it on Facebook. “Offices have such security — who has such a system at home?” he adds, incredulously.

Abhishek Samant believes that Indians too can create local characters that can go viral. (Left) A couple of memes he has created. Pic/ Sameer Markande

Seventeen year-old Noman Nalband also creates memes about his friends all the time. “Once a friend wasn’t replying to me on chat, so I created a meme which said ‘Y U No talk to me Gary’ and put it up as my Blackberry Messenger display picture,” recalls the Andheri resident. According to him, a lot of teenagers use memes to taunt their friends. “If they’re fighting with someone or want to make fun of them they create a meme and share it. Some also use memes to tell girls they like them,” he adds, before confessing, “In fact, I once told a girl I found her cute through a meme too.” Luckily, the girl thought it was pretty sweet of him and was touched by the “cute” gesture, or so he says.

A digital gene
“Memes have been around for a while,” says Nishant Shah, director — research, Centre for Internet and Society, Bengaluru. Faster Internet connections and computers with higher speeds, however, have recently begun to encourage the explosion of memes that has followed on social networking sites. “Additionally, platforms like social networking sites have made it easier to share memes. Earlier, memes were limited to North American cultures. But today it is huge among the Twitter and Facebook-friendly worldover,” he explains.

These social networking platforms help create what is known as a ‘trolling meme’ — a term for a meme that goes viral. How memes become so popular is something that continues to stump networking sciences, says Shah. “Virality is interesting because we don’t know why these things go viral. We could carry out a post mortem study, but it will still be difficult to point out exactly what makes a particular meme more popular than the other,” says Shah.

Defining an Internet meme as “a digital gene, which is replicated effortlessly and is a mutation or morphed version of the original,” he says, “Digital technology enabled people to create copies without hurting the original,” he reveals. A meme can be in the form of an image, video, hyperlink, or even a word or phrase.

What is ironic is that memes often have a certain exclusivity to them. “Not everyone will understand the joke. They serve as a sort of rite of passage to a cult. If you need to ask what a meme means, you’re already an outsider,” explains Shah.

Y U no?
That explains how certain characters have gained popularity over time. Futurama Fry, Willy Wonka, Success Kid, Trollface, Socially Awkward Penguin, Annoying Facebook Girl, Conspiracy Keanu and Yao Ming’s “Bitch Please” are some instantly recognisable characters. Websites that allow you to generate your own meme and allow you to choose your characters and add text to the image have also multiplied in the past few years.

Nalband uses the website Memebase (.com) to create his memes. “There are hundreds of characters to choose from on that site, but my favourite is the ‘Y U No’ bald guy. No matter what text you add to the image, it is always funny,” he laughs. The Bhavan’s College student first visited the site about three to four months ago and has created around 50-60 memes since. “I’m also the go-to guy for my friends. If they want to a new meme created, they just ask me, and I make it for them,” he says.

Tonseker, on the other hand, avoids these websites and has been using Photoshop to create his own memes for about a year. Although he does use characters like Willy Wonka, he also makes memes from scratch. For instance, Rowdy Rathore’s tag line inspired him to create a meme of his own. “I put a picture of Akshay Kumar on top with the text ‘Don’t angry me’ and placed the Hulk below saying ‘Bitch please’,” chuckles the New Marine Lines resident.

Pandu and Jaggu Dada
Since memes are all about popular culture, Bollywood is an obvious target. Recently, a video of Jackie Shroff at a shoot for a polio advertisement, showed him spewing expletives. The video went viral, spawning off a bunch of Jaggu Dada memes. One of them was a new character called Grammar Nazi Jaggu Dada, created by Abhishek Samant, manager at a pharmaceutical company, last month.

Pranav Tonseker enjoys creating memes using Photoshop. Pic/ Satyajit Desai

“This was a reference/ tribute to that video of Jackie Shroff,” he explains. As a hobby, the 29 year-old creates Indian meme characters on his smartphone. “I have a long commute between Mahim and Mulund every day. That’s when I think of ideas for the memes.”

Creating memes is obviously more than just a pastime for Samant, who created a Facebook page ( dedicated to the meme characters he has created, last month. “There were no memes themed on India as such. The ones that claimed to be Indian were just text references on existing meme images or had not more than two to three images,” he says, explaining why he felt the need for a specific page.

Noman Nalband logs on to Memebase (.com) every two weeks or so to create memes for himself and his friends

“I wanted to showcase that we Indians can create sustainable India-themed memes too.” And it you’re wondering how he juggles this meme mania with his job, he has help. Two BMM students Niraj Jain and Dev Marwa, his wife Dipti and Chaitanya Chainani, a friend, help him manage the page.

Apart from Grammar Nazi Jaggu Dada, Samant has created characters such as Mumbai Traffic Cop, Annoying FM Radio Jockey, BBM Addict Chick, Supposedly ‘Pro’ Indian Gamer and Badass Indian Bikers over the past month. “Currently I am working on Football Oblivious Indian Chick and Wannabe Football Fan Dude. I also plan to work on Indian Smokers,” informs Samant. “We have so many stereotypes,” he smiles, explaining why he enjoys working on Indian-themed memes.

What’s next?
According to Shah, the trend of creating memes will change the roles we play in society. “We’ve been spectators for a long time. Creating memes helps us become producers and co-creators,” says Shah. We are no longer followers of a cultural pattern set by somebody else, he believes. “Memes depend on collaboration and there’s only going to be an increase in that.”

How ‘meme’ was born
The word meme was coined by Richard Dawkins; he first used it in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. He used the term to denote a self-replicating behavioural or cultural pattern. Comparing the concept to the biological evolution of genes, he made sure he found a word that sounded just like it. The introduction of digital technology in the ’80s and ’90s gave memes a large boost. Memes were mainly textual in nature back then, but the progress of technology ensured that memes included images, videos, and everything else that could be shared electronically from one Internet user to another

Make your own meme
Creating image memes is getting easier by the day. If you’re not as Photoshop-friendly as Tonseker and Samant, you can always choose from a number of apps and websites to generate your own memes. If you don’t want to choose one of their characters, you can always upload an image and add in the text of your choice.

> Memegenerator (.net) is one of the most popular meme-generating websites. It offers a wide range of characters to choose from, and categorises them into eight different ‘tiers’ ranging from ‘God tier’ to ‘Fail tier’. The former includes extremely popular characters like Y U No and Philosoraptor while the latter has the lesser-known Stupid Monkey and the Maiden Philologist. It also allows you to create you own character

> Whatdoumeme (.com) is another option. Futurama Fry is their most popular character. While Memegenerator has a lot more going for it, this one allows you to upload an image of your own too. If you’re not into making your own memes, you can always browse through the hundreds of memes available on these sites and share them on your social network

> For those more likely to use a meme generator on their phones, apps are likely to be a faster and more convenient option. Several are available on the iPhone app store. Meme Base, a free app, has some great reviews except for the fact that it doesn’t allow you to save images. Meme Generator, which costs USD 0.99, is a great tool too, save for the fact that it doesn’t let you drag and drop images. For those on Android, Memedroid is great for viewing memes. It allows you to create new ones, share the ones you like on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and WhatsApp. There’s a Meme Generator app for Android too, it lets you choose a meme, insert a funny caption, and share it with friends. Both apps are free to download  

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