The Discourse Around the Emergence of Political Meme Culture in India

Digital culture and the development of digital platforms took new audience by storm. With the advent of social media, a new approach and diaspora of culture emerged and is continuing to do so. ‘Content’ was earlier created for consumption by the audience but with the rise of digital culture, consumers started participating in the creation of content. This was the birth of participatory digital culture- a new approach to content production where the audience was actively involved and tangled in content creation. In participatory culture, the user can be a producer, influencer and consumer of information (Han, 2011).

Social media started gaining popularity at the beginning of last decade. The content curated for social media platforms was user-friendly and light-hearted- it mainly aimed at connecting people. The major approach of these social media platforms was to create new connections and shrink the space amongst the users which led to the circulation niche content which had a distinct audience of its own. There were little circles of people who would have access and reach to a certain type of content. Thus, began the creation of content from the user’s end. The content created had the audience’s own style and input.

The advancement of social media, and its rise as a source of entertainment, pushed magazines and newspapers into the background. People shifted to digital platforms which aimed at producing light content and appeared to be a more democratic medium for doing so. As this culture emerged, satire and comedy took a prominent place. This gave birth to a new category of content which was termed a ‘meme.

The advancement of social media, and its rise as a source of entertainment, pushed magazines and newspapers into the background. People shifted to digital platforms which aimed at producing light content and appeared to be a more democratic medium for doing so. As this culture emerged, satire and comedy took a prominent place. This gave birth to a new category of content which was termed a ‘meme.

A meme is a term coined by biologist Richard Dawkins to describe “the flow, flux, mutation, and evolution of a culture, a cultural counter to the gene.” (Milner, 2012).  “It is a piece of digital content that rapidly spreads around the internet in various repetitions and becomes a shared cultural experience. It is widely circulated, imitated, and transformed via the internet by its many users”. (Shifman, 2014).

Memes have become a widely accepted tool of feedback from the audience, wherein every great film made, or web series launched, witnesses a parallel overflow of meme content which popularises it further. Thus, audiences become actively involved in the propagation of content and this approach has reached far and wide due to the popularity that memes have gained over years.

“Memes are contagious patterns of cultural information that get passed from mind to mind and directly generate and shape the mindsets and significant forms of behaviour and actions of a social group” (Knobel & Lankshear, 2007). The origin of memes can be considered sudden, but it caught like wildfire. People resonated with it because of its very nature- the content was catchy, and its contextual reference was made clear because of a visual representation. Memes have become a widely accepted tool of feedback from the audience, wherein every great film made, or web series launched, witnesses a parallel overflow of meme content which popularises it further. Thus, audiences become actively involved in the propagation of content and this approach has reached far and wide due to the popularity that memes have gained over years. It becomes an instant connecting factor for the audience because of the very place where it originates from.

While it started off as a means of entertainment, memes have now taken a significant hold of the audience and society at large, where no major event of the last few years has gone by without generating a flux of commentary memes. Memes as a digital genre proliferated widely over the decade, with its approach transgressing the boundaries of social, and political criticism. In the realm of social and political practices, memes have stepped in very recently. It has done so because of the increasing active engagement of the common man in the political discourse. One can view this connection parallelly, where memes made available to the common man an idea of the political milieu in a very simplified terminology- a change from the normative consumption of politics only through news channels. This made the public involved and interested in the country’s political discourse, hence formulating an opinion of their own.

With the sudden popularity that meme culture gained widely, political parties started capitalising on it. They became an important tool for election campaigns where memes would be used as an important means to formulate the image of a politician or to tarnish that of an opposition. In Indian politics, Congress’ Rahul Gandhi became an early victim of it, where his image has been dulled by the opposition time and again using memes as a medium.

With the sudden popularity that meme culture gained widely, political parties started capitalising on it. They became an important tool for election campaigns where memes would be used as an important means to formulate the image of a politician or to tarnish that of an opposition. In Indian politics, Congress’ Rahul Gandhi became an early victim of it, where his image has been dulled by the opposition time and again using memes as a medium. The extensive use of memes in election campaigns demonstrates their persuasive capabilities. The birth of the IT cell especially for propagating certain ideologies through memes took place. It created full-time employment for people involved in propagating an ideology without any prior knowledge about it. Major apps that are deployed for the propagation of such content include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and WhatsApp.

Memes are continued to be viewed as light-hearted content based solely on humour purposes, but in recent times it has surpassed that territory. It has become an important form of the voice of dissent. People who did not raise their individual voices prior to the advancement of this digital culture have formed an important collective idea of dissent.

One important aspect of the proliferation of this culture is that it gives due place and respect to the freedom of expression and free speech. It forms an important part of our own political lives, with us being granted these rights. But more so often, we tend to forget that with these rights come responsibilities. Memes are continued to be viewed as light-hearted content based solely on humour purposes, but in recent times it has surpassed that territory. It has become an important form of the voice of dissent. People who did not raise their individual voices prior to the advancement of this digital culture have formed an important collective idea of dissent. Thus, a new voice is emerging in the politics of the country, with not only the ruling party and opposition forming its discourse, but rather the common public actively engaged in doing so.

Memes as a discourse on the digital platform started generating their own ideology. It becomes a cheap and enjoyable route for voicing one’s political opinions. With the digital advancement in today’s times, almost everyone has access to a mobile phone, which in turn makes them a receptor of this content. There is an overflow of content that is reaching us and hence our minds stop functioning individually. Rather, a mass mentality engulfs our thought processes and gives way to a certain ideology. More so often, the ideologies emanating from these platforms are divisive. While we view memes as a form of entertainment, it takes a toll on the nature of society. The ideologies start reflecting in our everyday lives and it becomes a part of our reality.

Bibliography

Han, S. (2011). Web 2.0. Routledge.

Knobel, M., & Lankshear, C. (2007). Online memes, affinities, and cultural production. In M. Knobel & C. Lankshear (Eds.), A new literacies sampler (pp. 199–227). Peter Lang Publishing.

Milner, R. M. (2012). The world made meme: Discourse identity in participatory media. University of Kansas.

Shifman, L. (2014). Memes in digital culture. The MIT Press.

 

Nawa Fatima is a Research Intern at CSPS 

Spread the love
X
X