Memefacturing dissent! Breaking down the 'science' of memes in India

Jul 01, 2017, 13:56 IST | Heli Shukla

However you choose to look at it, memes are beginning to take hold of how you, the voter, view policies and politics. This week, mid-day breaks down the Indian millennial's memetics.

Illustration/Ravi Jadhav
Illustration/Ravi Jadhav

Among the many gifts of the 2016 US Presidential election was the torrent of the political meme. Whether it was 'Birdie Sanders', 'Crooked Hillary' or '#ZodiacTed', the internet was splattered with GIFs and JPEGs that conveyed a message in line with one's political leanings.

But, the tone soon turned acerbic when the Alt-Right stepped in with their 'Meme Magic' - a termed coined by Alt-right website Breitbart columnist Milo Yiannopoulous - to hail and circulate memes under Trump's name and launching vicious attacks against his enemies.

In India, it's a slightly different story. Memes are not-so-slowly emerging as a form of showing political dissent, too, whether it is by mocking the PM's monogrammed suit or the policies of the country's right-wing, but still being funny.

On the Indian internet, memes float around daily, either making Narendra Modi 'relatable AF' or disparaging Rahul Gandhi's Pappu ways. However you choose to look at it, these devices of dank humour are beginning to take hold of how you, the voter, view policies and politics. This week, mid-day breaks down the Indian millennial's memetics.

What is a meme?
Pronounced as 'meem', the term coined by naturalist and biologist Charles Darwin - father of the theory of evolution - in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene. In the last chapter Memes: the New Replicators, he described meme as a unit of cultural transmission that is analogous to the gene. Illustrating it further, Darwin wrote: "Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool... so memes propagate in the meme pool... via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation."

Meme masters say

Humans of Hindutva, Facebook page

For how long can democratic debate hinge on internet memes?
Memes are an end in themsel-ves. They are a cultural reaction to the real world. The real world shouldn't expect anything from them in return. We have other mediums and platforms for more urgent discussions. They're a recent phenomenon. Democratic debate is as old as Parthenon and Socrates.

What are the reactions you've gotten for your page?
Some people, who used to troll or abuse me, now have healthy discussions on the page.

Karan Talwar, Stand-up comic

Are memes a vehicle for expressing political dissent?
A majority of us don't identify with either left or right, so for the rest of us what is left is memes and humour. They are a very simple way to express an idea without getting too politically embroiled. But, if you read comments on most memes, it goes back to the same thing, because we are humourless people.

How do people react to the memes you post?
The comments usually become pretty dirty depending on how big the meme gets... We keep it pretty simple. We try not to take sides in the joke.

On November 9, 2016, when the PM announced demonetisation, it sent shockwaves and inspired relentless memes on the chaos that followed. This stirred endless debates on whether it was a good move for the country or a disastrous one. Regardless, this golden period marked the return of 'Sonam Gupta Bewafa Hai', aka the most iconic betrayal meme of all time.


Jemin Shah, Literature student
'While memes run the risk of being reductive about political debate, I end up spending a lot more time reading satire on pages like Humans of Hindutva. So, if used correctly, it has potential to promote political discourse.'

Prakruti Maniar, Content writer
'Memes should not be used in political debates, because they devalue the discuss-ion and create filte-red, simplified images. In a society that needs to be more aware of its democratic rights, memes shift focus, and hinder deeper understanding.'

Shreshtha GK, Literature student
'Memes have become a sort of guerrilla reactio-nary means of expressing political dissent/assent. Memes form the ideal vehicle for highlighting incongruity in policy, religion and exposing social biases.'

Joke's on Kejriwal
The Delhi Chief Minister and convener of the Aam Aadmi Party is an anti-corruption crusader. His crusades, coughs, trademark mufflers and political mishaps have inspired many a meme - from supporters and haters alike. Whether he is wearing a flower crown in Goa, or dissing the PM, the AAP leader lends himself to a natural memetic quality.

Year the term 'meme' was coined

Growth in search for 'meme' since July 2012

Mizoram has the highest search rate for the word 'meme'

Search interest for 'meme' in Maharashtra

Data from Google Trends

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