One of the most baffling trends has taken over Facebook in recent times. The not-so-funny, insensitive or downright nasty memes asking people to tag the ‘Rahuls’, ‘Ankits’, ‘Sameers’ (among others) in posts carrying pictures of women who perhaps don’t fit the ideal image of a photoshopped model on Vogue.
This has left me and many others with a bitter taste in our mouths. A cursory glance through the comments section of these posts is enough to make you question the values of the people who are actively engaging with these memes. What’s even worse is that many people don’t grasp why jokes like these are extremely deleterious.
No, they aren’t harmless! These posts are utterly racist, with comments often indicating bigotry. Moreover, they reek of bullying. Keeping overweight and coloured women as the base for such jokes reinforces the notion of attributing a person’s worth to merely their appearance.
For anyone who even remotely resembles the subject of mockery in these memes, it can trigger self-esteem issues, push them into depression and cause lifelong psychological challenges. Childmind.org details the impact social media has on the self-esteem of most teenagers.
Moreover, in the wake of the recent attack on Nigerians in the Delhi NCR area, it has become even more difficult for us to maintain that we Indians aren’t racist or prejudiced towards people with fair skin.
Black comedy, which has its roots in scepticism and cynicism, chooses to poke fun at issues that may be considered taboo by the society. While it isn’t quite the stuff that makes one introspect, it generally aims at highlighting the underlying hypocrisy of people. Personally, I don’t see any long-lasting psychological damage resulting from it.
As far as insult comedy and the trend of ‘roasts’ is concerned, what you may not have noticed is the fact that most of the ‘roasts’ treat the audience like a fly on the wall. The comedians and the ‘roastee’ are complicit in their agreement pertaining to the jokes, that mainly circle around public controversies surrounding the celebrity in question. Besides, the celebrity is paid heftily. These ‘roasts’ are more of a public relations campaign, than an excuse to poke fun at a celebrity’s stardom and their (not-so-private) missteps.
Herd mentality. This also explains the massive following these jokes attract. Psychology has long discussed the impact of conformity and how people tend to ‘de-individualise’ themselves in a crowd.
To understand this, you must look into experiments like the Asch Experiment. Once people feel that they are a part of a larger crowd, it doesn’t take them long to adopt the mannerisms and thought processes of those surrounding them. It’s almost as if they lose any sense of personal identity. For instance, in this article, the writer discusses how quickly the ‘wisdom of the masses’ can turn into the ‘stupidity of mobs’.
The bystander effect, a psychological phenomenon that often prevents individuals from helping others when they are in a group, also contributes to this.
With the entire internet becoming a sounding board of myriad opinions and tastes, the onus of taking the initiative to oppose a popular viewpoint has become difficult, as one usually expects someone else to do that. You feel that by ‘liking’ the comment of someone who tacitly agrees with you, you have appropriately and sufficiently acted, as per the situation.
I’m worried because people aren’t aware of the power their words carry. In a previous article, I had talked of Justine Sacco. She had tweeted a joke that eventually turned her life topsy-turvy. To this date, it haunts her. She still struggles with finding jobs, dating people and just leading a normal life.
The case of Heidi Yeh is another cautionary tale amongst many. She became the butt of a widely-circulated meme, after she had appeared in a plastic surgery ad featuring attractive ‘parents’ and their three ‘children’ whose faces were significantly altered. The caption for the ad originally read, “The only thing you’ll ever have to worry about is how to explain it to the kids.” This was morphed into “Plastic surgery: you can’t hide it forever” in the meme.
After these developments, when a Chinese tabloid associated her with a fake story about a husband suing his wife of having plastic surgery before they met and having kids that looked nothing like her, Heidi Yeh’s career was simply damaged!
It is absolutely crucial that we stop liking, commenting upon and sharing such memes. And if we come across people who make such memes, we must make them understand why they shouldn’t be doing this.
However, it’s also true that it’s much easier to discuss this with an acquaintance or a friend, as compared to a random stranger on the internet. We must therefore appeal to the conscience of people to think better of it and to reflect for a minute before making an imprudent comment, just to come across as witty.
So, to every ‘Rahul’, ‘Ankit’, ‘Sameer’ that has ever been tagged in offensive memes – tag your friends in this article and make them realise the folly of their ways. Finally, to satisfy the curiosity of all those who tag their friends in offensive memes (like the ones above), I would like to settle this once and for all. I really don’t think that the Academy Award-nominated Gabourey Sidibe needs your help in finding her a suitor. I’m pretty sure a woman of her talent and success can do it by herself. But thanks for your concern, nonetheless!
This article first appeared on the author’s blog.