HYDERABAD: It’s the final of the biggest club football tournament. You have a chance to score the match-winning penalty. Millions of people around the globe hold their collective breath. In your head, a voice whispers — ‘If I miss… I’ll become a meme’. Not kidding, this is Kai Havertz’s confession after he successfully scored the goal and won them the title.
Think back a little and you’ll have faint memories of people being arrested for a meme. Think even further back and you’ll have memories of comedians making public apologies for memes. Ever wonder how we got here? Weren’t memes supposed to be the SMS-forward equivalent for Gen Z?
Comedy needs humour, stories need intrigue, music needs melody, but all that memes need are relatability. The first set of memes were pencil sketch templates like ‘problem?’ (annoyance) and ‘Yaass’ (joy) — two emotions that are experienced by everyone and can fit on almost anything that’s trending. Slowly, people moved from making memes to meme templates — where a still from a show, a dialogue from a movie or as of 2019, just a disappointed sports fan — could be a template.
Almost a decade into memes, we’ve reached a point where a new template shows up from anywhere at a rate of one every minute. The aim? To go viral. Content creators dream of becoming a meme, brands post memes to connect to their audience and, as ridiculous as it sounds, ‘meme marketing’ is a legit branch of advertising that has employees working as Meme Managers and Memefluencers. 2021 even saw political parties use meme templates to take digs at their opponents.
Memes have surpassed all forms of communication and become the most powerful and simple way to drive your point, narrative or propaganda across. I believe I know the reason for this. The early man neither had a Shakespearean command over language, nor Ghalib’s way of saying things (or a lighter to light his cigarette). All he had was a stone and a cave wall. And the earliest recorded message of mankind was a drawing on a wall (think Ice Age, the movie).
10,000 years of evolution later, a simple drawing like the one on the cave wall still connects more with us than anything else (thank you genetics). It took us years to build a language, then write a script for it, then make it clear (not you, English) for people to understand and relate. Who knew it was all going to be a futile exercise to just write captions for memes!
Sorry Rafiki, Stephen King and Fyodor Dostoevsky, more people are going to know about a meme on a page called ‘Baba Chu’ than your entire life’s efforts (unless someone makes a meme on it). Inset ‘fuuuuuuu’ meme here.
(Bhavneet is a stand-up comedian and this may be his new material)