THE POST-COLONIAL DISCOURSE OF RACE AND LANGUAGE IN INTERNET MEMES
The laughable image macros leading to offensive statements and psychological impact
Internet is a medium that provides the phenomenon of hilarious jokes and promotes an immoderate amount of visual and verbal comedy. In modern culture, this phenomenon appears in the form of Internet Memes. The meme is a term that was first formulated in 1976 by British biologist, Richard Dawkins, (Dawkins, 1976, p. 192). The expression Meme is a short term derived from Mimeme, which is a Greek expression for an imitated thing. Dawkins, in his book The Selfish Gene (1976), presented the idea of collateral to biological genes. He considered them as Selfish genes which were only meant to serve their true purpose. He attempted to understand behavioural patterns that were absurd but still present in our society. He emphasised that nature is a merciless magistrate of its subjects and any sign of weakness shown by the subject, either physical or behavioural, face the outcome by rapid egress from the gene pool. Memes according to Dawkins had similarities to the gene pool, (Dawkins, 1989, p. 352). Though explained biologically, modern-day Memes are not as different because they follow the same concept of imitation. These memes are subjected to various types of catchphrases, which for the user seem to be a source of amusement. Subjects of Memes revolves around various topics of life. These relatable life experiences shape the imitation process for the Image Macro/Meme. In some cases, memes can turn out to be very offensive, sometimes encouraging colonized thoughts which include the mockery of race, gender and language.
To understand the reliability between the offensiveness of memes, knowing how post-colonialism works is really important.
The term Post-colonialism is derived from the incidents that happened during colonization. According to Boehmer, Colonialism is the bargain of territorial settlement, the utilization of resources or its development and the strive to rule the indigenous people of respected lands, (Boehmer, 1995). The occurrence of colonization does not only require indigenous people, it can happen with or without them because invasion is the key factor that causes oppression on the native people, (Hilton, 2011). Hence making Postcolonialism the study of colonial strategies, effects, rules and regulations that partook the colonial era as a brutally ruling reign of the westerners.
Radhika and Gita (Mohanram, 1996) discuss post-colonialism as an ethnic and cultural process within which British culture initially silenced and later combined indigenous cultures even after the decline of the British Empire. With its expansion around the world, English played a significant role in controlled relations between Britain and its colonies. English has been used as a colonizing agent to silence and subject the indigenous cultures of different individuals to British rule.
Similar terms that are synonymous with Colonialism but have a totally different aspect are perceived to be confusing. Such terms were differentiated by great scholars. As Edward Said, a Palestinian-American scholar criticizes in his book Orientalism (1978), the western perspective about the Eastern culture, Arab world’s colonization. Orientalism justified European colonialism on the sole basis of a self-promoting history in which the West established the East as very different and inferior, (Hale, 2005).
Homi K Bhaba questions the first approach of giving a prerogative grant to every colony for ruling and creating the British Empire. Homi’s concept of mimicry is a criticism of post-colonial literature which frames the relationship between the colonized and the colonizers. Through Homi’s perception, the colonized have formed ambivalent feelings towards the colonizers; some of those feelings are good while some are bad. This polarity creates a figurative wound in the identity of the colonized and creates an entity that confuses their own cultural identity and that of the colonizer’s cultural identity. This results in the formation of various levels of mimicry. At the surface level, mimicry is unnoticeable while the deeper level belittles the colonized due to the colonizer’s culture, (Bhaba, 1984).
In a conference paper, Mulder (2016), talks about Eurocentrism, which is a concept closely related to Fanon’s theory of colonialism. Eurocentrism is a disease that obtrudes the European consciousness upon other people, (Asante, 2012, p. 38). This perception of Eurocentrism is portrayed through various sources of our society such as social media.
Black Skin, White Masks, (Fanon, 1952), discusses historical critique along with the complexity of identity crisis. In the book, he uses psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic theory to further demonstrate insecurities of reliability and insufficiency experienced by people of colour. Fanon explains the distorted psyche of a Black Subject, who is already confused by the superior and inferior cultures and adapts and mimics the colonizer’s culture due to its superior status, (Fanon, 1952).
This philosophy is closely related to Bhaba’s concept of colonized literature. He argued that the effects of colonialism are visible in the literature of the colonized people who mostly create a hybrid of their culture and the culture of the colonizers which results in identity crisis and inferiority complex. (Huddart, 2005).
The sixth chapter of Fanon’s book, Black Skin, White Masks, (Negro and Psychopathology), introduces briefly, profound psychoanalyses of subjugated people and thus seeks the reluctance of people of colour to conform to the social, cultural and racial conventions established by the white people. (Fanon, 1952). Through this confirmation, the concept of ‘Alienation’ grows out to be Fanon’s subject matter. Fanon shows how extensively hazardous alienation can be among the colonized populace. As a socially established development inside the colonial world, alienation makes a paradigmatic Apartheid-based authenticity. (Seal, 2015)
This aspect of alienation can be seen through internet memes which the people of the same flesh use against each other or to laugh about it in a degrading manner.
Humour is one of the most prevalent elements of the internet culture, which is a central aspect of everyday life and interaction, (Pickering & Lockyer, 2005). It varies from time to time and person to person. The type of humour which I will be discussing in this research depicts the slave mentality influenced from the colonial era.
The word meme originated from Richard Dawkins’ (1976) book The Selfish Gene. Dawkins perceived memes as a social parallel to natural qualities and respected them, in a way relatively like ‘selfish’ genes, as being responsible for their very own reproduction and in this manner serving their very own finishes. Comprehended in those terms, images convey data, are duplicated and are transmitted starting with one individual then onto the next, and they can advance, transforming aimlessly and experiencing survival of the fittest, with or without effects on human wellness, (Dawkins, 1976).
Web humour has transformed into an overarching strategy for online correspondence, (Shifman, 2014). Moreover, the topics and arrangements of funniness are changed inside the Internet-based climate, (Shifman, 2014). This characterizes memes as any kind of humorous interplay that is exhibited or shown on the internet and demands that the most qualities of the web, that are mixed media framework, (Shifman, 2007). Internet humour is very closely related to internet memes since 2010 (Shifman, 2014).
Not all memes are meant to be humorous in nature, but humour is a key phenomenon for the construction of internet memes (Knobel and Lankshear, 2006).
The idea of cultural assimilation, in any case, remains hypothetical. It is additionally easy to refute, given the thought of self-centred minds and the use of the plan to the development of societies, which formed the reason for the division of memetics, (Rogers, 2014).
The idea of cultural assimilation, in any case, remains hypothetical. It is additionally easy to refute, given the thought of self-centred minds and the use of the plan to the development of societies, which formed the reason for the division of memetics. (Rogers, 2014).
Davidson (2012) proposes that the aberrant nature of memes is the analogy of their transmission and the devotion of their structure towards the subject matter, (Davidson, 2012, p. 122).
But what is an internet meme? An Internet meme is usually an image macro in the form of an image, GIF or video, (Shifman, 2014).
Originally, the notion of internet memes rose in the 1990s. At that time, memes were short clips shared between people in the forums in Usenet.com. With the development of the internet, memes took different shapes as well. Back in the days, all it took for a meme to get famous was a pixelated GIF or image of a dancing baby or hamsters. As the Internet advanced from dial- up to DSL and meme- swapping resorts such as Baum’s World became more straightforward. Pictures of animals written with a catchphrase that had a unique grammatical patter, which was originally named as LOLcat became popular for their amusing uniqueness. The LOLcat finally illustrated the macro image. A macro image is a simple image with block capitals above and below, the top part of the image sets the joke and the bottom part completes it. (Watercutter, 2018).
In an article on racist memes, Injeong Yoon (2016) examined internet memes that revolved around racist catchphrases and visuals. The project rooted from the life experiences of the professor as his students discussed about racism in the internet culture. Yoon proposed that internet memes should be thoroughly studied as a platform of reproduction, (Yoon, 2016).
In a multi-model discourse analysis of internet memes, Milner, (2013) researches upon internet memes to sort out fixity, vernacular innovativeness and oddity. He labelled memes as a media “Lingua Franca”, through supporting studies of ‘Kanye Interrupts’ and ‘Not Bad Obama’ (Lee, 2017).
In another article which studies Asians/Asian Americans online identities in a rhetoric discourse, indicates memes are a complex innovation that confuse racial identities by imploring the conflicts of identity, (Ding, 2015).
Dynel in his essay projects about the pervasive phenomenon of Internet Memes, which however is under research. The article focuses on Advice Animal image macros which are perceived as an inside expanded joke, multiplying over online networking, (Dynel, 2016).
Through the findings about language internalisation and racial discourse, it is proven that we are still slaves to the colonizer’s way of life. It is manifested in every aspect of our life, including internet meme, which we find innocent enough to share. But sharing such ideologies causes a harmful effect on the psychological health of the subject of the meme. Internet memes open a gate way for people of different ages, especially the younger generation, that destroys their innocence of loving people not by their skin colour or language, but by their personality and attitude towards others. Many of these memes are created by keeping in view the relatability of life. But the grave truth about this relatability is that it portrays the colonized people are still slave to the colonizer’s way of living. They are so impressed by the westerners that they are abandoning their culture, traditions and lifestyles just to be a part of a society where it is hard for them to fit in. Their standards are shaped according to the psychologies of the westerners, their culture is influenced according to the westerners and even their humour is shaped by the western thought of ridiculing and dehumanizing jokes.
All the findings and analysis above show that mostly the Indians and Pakistanis are judging people through western standards of life. Even when they have their own rich cultural heritage, they look up to the standards provided by the colonizers who colonized them ages ago.
Racism on other hand is more evident through targeting people of colour, either they are brown or black, they are measured by the same standards which have great influence of the colonizing days. All these factors lead to identity crisis. When a person is habitual of imitating a foreign culture, their own self is lost in between the process of imitation. Their identity is lost, and they become an individual who is just like a faceless man without a name. This research will help further generations from ridiculing their own flesh and their race through a popular internet culture called internet memes.
None of these historical aspects should be repeated as we are not living in the past but the future. If our generations have the same mindset, how would you call that progress? Rather, it would be an anti-thesis of a refined world that we strive for.