A Case for Malaysian Memes
After a long day, the commute home or the quick dinner I have with myself is almost always coupled by me scrolling through my social media, Twitter in particular. I retweet a bunch of tweets that I feel that my followers need to see, and I like a bunch of articles that I feel I should read later. In between all those, there are a bunch of witty tweets usually accompanied by a graphic all condensed in 140 characters, two minute videos or even six second ones that will usually elicit a quick exhale of air and a smirk at worse. And it’s these pieces of contemporary art dare I say, that stays with me the most.
Its undeniable how much power memes have in this day and age. Everyone wants to show their friends something that amused them and social media lets you do that so effectively and economically. It’s only one share or retweet button away. The rise of self-expiring video logs also paves more ways for memes to be more widespread. One thing is for sure, why memes are amusing is because how relatable it is to real-life situations and how it has the ability to showcase some kind of exaggeration of the situation from the rudimentary use of graphics.
A good and classic example to depict this is the #DoneDakwah meme. What started out as a panel from @hxsm’s comic satirising an ustaz getting called out for being racist, was reused many times by other twitter users to showcase a similar situation. The original comic did garner over 1k retweets but I’ve seen particularly that single panel as well as the hashtag #DoneDakwah being used over and over again all over my timeline. It became a thing to describe an ironic encounter with someone, usually of religious authority with the hashtag or the graphic itself.
Again, the widespread of #DoneDakwah was due to the exaggeration but more importantly its relevance. Any Malay Muslim are more than willing to indulge in you at least one time they have been shot down by someone of the same faith when they began asking questions. This one particular comic panel captures the exact irony, humour and criticism when it is used by people all over the internet. Which is why Malaysian memes are great, it captures the nuances that are often hard or too long to be expressed over social media posts.
Malaysian memes can be notorious as they usually use screen grabs or GIFs of local public icons to be made into reactionary graphics. Since Malaysia is never short of iconic figures getting caught on the camera usually going about their own lives sometimes before it gets memefied by the local. Cosmetics entrepreneur Dato’ Vida was merely expressing how tired she was before frames of the Instagram video was used to show disinterest or boredom. Similarly, politician Ahmad Maslan was hesitating to answer a question in a video shot by a journalist and since then local GIF makers has turned that hesitation into a gif with ‘BINGUNG’ across the frame.
To say that these reactions are uniquely Malaysian, is not entirely true or wrong either. I find that when Malaysian generate our own memes, we are also putting forth our very own post-modern culture that meme Twitter (which is very Americanised, usually derived off of African-American culture), cannot translate into their graphics or videos or tweets. And the response, be it retweets or readapting those phrases or photos and putting their own spin to it shows that many Malaysians from various cultural backgrounds, different age groups and sometimes even religious affiliations can find a middle ground to be amused and relate to some graphics the local internet churned out.
Another beautiful thing to note is how locals are so skillful in the art of adapting a non-local meme and then adding uniquely Malaysian flair and identity via Malaysian experiences to it. These two memes were originally from the American communities but it was so widespread that Malaysians began to add our own flavour to it. Most of the time these flavours are usually some form of jab at religion, usually Islam. They’re not usually so much of mocking the practices of religion but in a community where the smallest joke about Islam is taboo, such should be condemned but they are surprisingly not. Which makes me wonder, almost all of us were brought up to not question religion but are memes allowing us to do so and make us less fearful but rather more accepting of views and attitudes that are changing?
Speaking of Malaysian taking our own spins at more global memes, the fun and creative #MannequinnChallenge has been recreated countless of times by locals but earlier this year Naga DDBTribal together with Save the Children(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pH0MBYid5_M) unveiled the most disturbing one in hopes to deliver a message rather than a joke. As Rae Sremmurd croons the familiar lyrics that accompanies numerous other similar videos, little girls stood frozen in a line, holding up numbers before the camera revolves around several older men, some sat still with lustful eyes and others were in the midst of throwing some cash to another man.
Using this meme to bring Malaysians a glimpse of what sexual exploitation looks like and also bringing awareness to paedophillia is definitely a brilliant approach. It is effective in a sense that it is simple enough yet has a message that needs to passed on so people who have seen it are not hesitant in sharing that on their feeds and timelines. For me, this shows that memes are more than just the millennials’ form of escapism. It can work as an effective tool to bring discourse as well as highlight certain issues that exist in our culture.
A friend once told me that memes are now some form of contemporary art to which I concur. But I’d also like to argue that to me, memes like many other art forms too, are effective tools for communication. It brings a community together by highlighting common grounds and also sharing common cultures and practices that are more relatable than we’ve learnt to realise. Like film or poetry, memes can also bring out discussions and push awareness and they can definitely be just as effective as other artforms. I for one definitely call for memes to be accepted.
Have a great day Malaysia. Gerak lu pape roger.