Interview: How does it feel to be a meme maker in India?

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This meme on MS Dhoni got viral on social media. Credits: Meme for Teens/Facebook

From Dhoni’s Kashmir posting to Modi’s landslide victory this year, from regular family groups to friends playing ‘meme war’ (a concept where friends tag each other in different memes to express their feelings, idea or opinion)- ‘Memes’ have taken over the digital space and have emerged as a global language for wider interaction.

Today, thousands of millennial meme-makers are exploring and making social media explode via their witty, sarcastic and viral memes. Memes have become a tool for showing dissent, expressing views and making people laugh. It was in 1976 that an evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, in his book The Selfish Gene, coined the term ‘meme’ to describe small units of culture that spread from person to person by copying or imitation.

C Yamini Krishna (in a conversation with Hindu Businessline), a research scholar at the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, sees memes as the language of social media, and a means for social commentary in today’s world of heightened surveillance and curbs on free speech. She adds that memes end up educating and informing the audience on certain issues that the mainstream media remains silent on. Thus, memes share a social value symbolic to free space, liberal views and dissent in the era where all of it is under the strict scanner.

TA met a 25-year-old meme maker from Dehradun, an ex-software engineer, Kanika Baluni. Kanika is currently preparing for civil services. She generally creates memes on pahadi culture, Indian society, political happenings and dark humor. Kanika shares her experience of creating memes in India and sharing it with groups and pages having massive followings.

Kanika also shares that the art of meme-making is no more limited to metropolitan cities rather spreading rapidly even in tier-II and III cities.

Kanika Baluni (Dehradun based meme maker. She has been making memes on Indian Society, Politics and Dark Humor)

How do you see meme culture being developed in India?

Meme culture in India is on a huge rise. It might have started as a mere concept of hilarity but now it is vaster in terms of topics and people engaged in memes. Memes are being used for communicating ideas, voicing opinions, expressing anger or concern, marketing and whatnot.

What’s so special about memes? Why do netizens go crazy?

Memes are usually made keeping a target audience in mind so that it automatically adds to the appeal. Secondly, memes are a language in their own sense. They are a shorter, wittier and funnier way of communicating thoughts and ideas, hence the appeal. Netizens love memes because they are able to relate to them and easily able to connect to that idea. Convenience to share it in very less time is another added benefit.

Credits: Kanika

Why do you make memes?

I make memes because
A. They’re funny
B. I’m full of ideas
C. Big stress relief strategy
D. I’m a millennial and millennials love the validation of their ideas in the form of FB reacts, likes and shares.
E. Also, I find it convenient to speak through memes. Takes less time. The idea is conveyed and it also might entertain someone.

How has been your experience as a meme maker?

Though I have started making memes quite recently, it has been fun. Fellow meme creators are really supportive. They really encourage your memes or give constructive criticisms like how you could make the same meme more appealing by changing a word here and there. And it’s such a stress relief. Sometimes I make a meme that’s really funny to me and keep chuckling throughout the day remembering it.

Memes- a source of entertainment or weapon to harass somebody. Your views?

Memes can be both – a source of entertainment as well as a weapon to harass. It is important that meme creators understand this and make memes that don’t violate community guidelines on social media. One needs to be careful while sharing the memes as well. Your source of entertainment should not impact another person’s mental health. So while we all have fun on social media, we need to be sensitive enough to understand the difference between fun and harassment.

Credits: Kanika

Do you think the current regulatory framework is enough to monitor the meme-making activities in the digital world?

I feel the current community guidelines are sufficient on the major meme sharing forums like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. They have the mechanism where you can report an offensive meme. Also, the periodical algorithm cleaning and changes are being rolled out by these social media platforms which ensure that offensive content is not shared or uploaded. I think that’s the best we can do. There is the IT Act too, which can come into the picture. But imposing regulation more than what is actually required, will result in the violation of the right to free speech and other rights.

Do you feel scared for creating memes and sharing it openly with the public, especially after knowing that we get offended so quickly?

Honestly, I do feel scared when it is a political meme or if it’s a little dark. I haven’t ever been threatened but sometimes people do get offended. Still, I am very careful while posting a political meme. But, it’s fun to do! It gives me a space to express my opinion regarding any situation or an event, to which a lot of people are able to relate.

Rishabh Shrivastava Author

Rishabh is the Founder and Editor in Chief of TA.