Memes. Isn’t it a wonderful world we live in , with constant innovation and evolution in practically every sphere including humor. I remember a time when I’d pick up little joke books or skim through Readers’ Digests for funny anecdotes. There was a certain joy in reading through till the end and then BAM!- the punchline comes.
Today we have a new substitute- the meme, clearly a product of a generation plagued by low-attention span. Who has the time to read a long joke anymore? Plus words don’t seem to be enough anymore, how can we jazz it up. TaDa- the meme is born. By definition it is- an image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users, often with slight variations.
Now let’s talk about a significantly relative aspect of this definition – Typically humorous.
There are all sorts of memes floating out there. The epic GoT ‘Winter is Coming’ variations, Leonardo di Caprio’s Gatsby raised toast with some whimsical ‘I don’t give a shit’ declaration, cute baby or cat or dogs and loads of other insanely creative and dressed up garbage. Perusing through my Facebook feed, I’ll often stop and giggle and marvel at the efforts of a stranger who took the time and effort to think of something so entertaining, then captured a GIF and super-imposed chunky text all over it .
A couple of weeks ago, someone had posted a meme of the side profile of a skinny girl who was standing in a pair of leggings with the tag-line “When you say LMAO too much”. It’s funny you see, because it’s a chick with a flat butt, who doesn’t know she’s been photographed and has no idea how popular her derriere is about to become. Come on, laugh along, don’t let that poor person’s efforts of taking the picture on the sly and conjuring such genius humor go to waste. Laugh. Like. Share.
Humor is a wonderful guise, almost like Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak; we can don it and pretty much get away with anything. We’re not permitted to be sensible or offended or analytical when it comes to a joke. So when I posted a comment about how the meme with the skinny woman’s bottom was insensitive as an attempt to body-shame and also an invasion of privacy, I was ripped apart for ‘not being able to take a joke’. In a span of two hours, I had young men spewing accusatory replies – idiot, feminazi, drama queen, hypocrite, ignorant. How is the need to be sensitive about another individual’s body a feminist act?
At first I used my anger to rationalize with them. The part of me that still believes unicorns roam some obscure part of Earth was convinced that I could educate these bullies. Perhaps even elicit an apology. As you can guess, I failed in my efforts. My unicorn-believer avatar was replaced by inner-Hulk yelling ‘Smash!’ at the laptop screen.
Later when I was slightly calmer after punching away at my toddler’s play dough, I contemplated where I might possibly be mistaken. It’s this new thing I’m trying actually, being ‘open minded’. Were the teenage boys too young to understand the implications of laughing at a pun about a woman’s body? Was I guilty of misandry? Was I making much ado about nothing?
Then I imagined the woman in the meme, sipping a cup of coffee, opening her laptop, browsing through her feed and choking on seeing herself in a joke that she never knew she’d be a part of and I knew my anger was justified.
Perhaps what is scarier about such humor being deemed acceptable is the manner in which such human callousness is defended with the claim of “It’s just a joke.” I personally have been witness to people fat-shaming me wryly, with sarcasm or humor, accompanied by a smile. Feeling horrid inside, I’d somehow scrape together enough dignity to laugh it off.
Jokes give people the excuse to be nasty. This truth coupled with the Internet giving people the freedom to snap and share away in the name of ‘creativity’ is creating a toxic system. Generic humor is slowly eroding the element of anonymity and we are taking pride in our ability to capture people in real-life and interpreting them as jokes.
Manic Street Preachers sang, “If you tolerate this your children will be next.” The lines are getting blurrier. This right called ‘freedom of expression’ is abused and our value-systems are reaching a comfortable state of numbness. What we laugh about reflects on our collective integrity.