The humble past of the future
The year is1988, two brothers are busy coding a software called "Imagepro" which would later take over the world enabling computer users to edit images on their machines. One was Thomas Knoll, a University of Michigan postgraduate who was on a six month break from his studies and the other was John Knoll who worked at visual effects powerhouse Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) at the time. After myriad of testing and debugging, the two brothers managed to sell the distribution license of this software to Adobe, who renamed their beloved invention as "Photoshop". Since then, after nearly 20 versions and countless major and minor updates, Photoshop has become a household name as well as the de-facto industry standard in raster graphic (images made out of pixels in layman's term) editing software. The impact of this piece of software is so immense that, the product name itself is freely used now as a colloquial verb to indicate anything that has been edited on a computer. With the evolution of global piracy, cloud based product solutions and easily accessible internet, the power of this software has been widely democratized in both positive and negative manners by millions of users worldwide. Apart from the traditionally intended graphic/image-making work,Photoshop is now being used for countless activities ranging from creating a Facebook post to notifying your friends about a protest, a scam or asking for donations on behalf of a cancer patient to switching the face of your local celebrity with a nude picture of a porn star for viral circulation. The software itself has become the most trusted and easy to use solution to get the job done, any kind that is-the ultimate graphic design tool for both professionals and amateurs. Then came memes; the much needed purpose for the amateurs.
The meme generation
"Meme" is the word coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976 to describe "small units of cultural transformations which are analogues to genres". Since then, following heavy debates amongst the academia and with the evolution of technology and tools such as Photoshop,"Meme" has become a household name among present day internet savvy users. And the concept has become an integral part of communication in popular culture. As Lemo Shiffman; Associate Professor at the Department of Communication and Journalism at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem puts it, modern day"internet memes" can be defined as a group of items which share common characteristics of form, content and/or stance and are created with awareness of each other’s elements and circulated, imitated and transformed via the internet by multiple users.
If we leave all the academic definitions aside, memes play an important and integral part in our everyday communications. It is the cause of such simple interactions between people, be it pausing when going through the social media feed on your mobile or simply enjoying a graphic related to a celebrity cat or Marvel superheroes vs local politicians. It results in social media engagement in the form of liking, commenting or even sharing it with your immediate friends or to use it as a mechanism to poke fun at somebody, by tagging them. Then users moved on from just using memes as a form personal entertainment to utilizing it as a public criticism mechanism on social issues and problems. Suddenly it was not just fun anymore. This important media creation and consumption method we call as memes finally found its real purpose. Thus memes became the powerful medium of amplifying the context of everyday life.
Amplification of the context
If we dwell deep into photoshopping memes, if you take the local example of the photograph of a local law enforcement officer attempting to hit a female undergraduate at a free education protest, you can find a number of different ways that this very scene was photoshopped in to memes with different subtexts as well as thematics. One obvious theme is the hilarious shunning down of police brutality as well as the illogical justification behind South Asian mindset of using power to oppress the weaker. But the point to note is that this same incident is also converted in to memes which bring up more eye opening insights about the everyday struggle of local law enforcement officers for example instead, highlighting that there's a whole other side to the spectrum as well. So in this particular situation photoshopping and creating this new genre of online communication works in both amplifying the context of the social and political background surrounding what has actually happened as well as shedding light in to lesser know areas of significance to open up a set of up whole other discussions.
Creators or the consumers of these memes will not say directly whether these are right or wrong but putting these subjects in the public eye in a very digestible way itself is nothing less than revolutionary. This approach being frank and unbiased is mainly facilitated by the fluidity of the digital media. The lack of which brought the mass media to its imminent downfall. By engaging in the age old practice of playing to their own political agendas the Mass Media has failed miserably at the hands of new digital knowledge that allows you to understand and interpret information and viewpoints so readily available at the click of a button. In a nutshell everybody have options as well as ways and means to get the information in as well as out and it's all down to what you believe in. Also we should not forget the whole marketing prowess of this medium as well.Perfect example being the recent Reddit battle on photoshopping the behind-the-scene image of Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridley on the new installment of the Star Wars franchise. Photoshopping memes is a powerful communication activity, it can be funny, political, socially relevant and subliminal marketing altogether. The revolution has begun or has it?
Revolution of the millennials
Memes will stay for sure or atleast it will not go anywhere for the next few years. Because video is going to be the next big thing on social media in the near future, the concept of memes will also evolve beyond photoshop in that direction. We can see the bits and pieces of this transformation already with free online meme generators to libraries to apps to localize content. Snapchat, Instagram stories and video editor apps on your mobile phones with sophisticated cameras will work as the necessary sparks for the future. But the most important point to ponder is that is this enough or have we been just cheated with another fad? Are memes an extension of neo-capitalistic mechanism of shrewdly killing off a much needed resistance from the next generation? Is it just a narcissistic way of laughing at some grave issue and then forgetting about it in the next moment? Or is it one of the most ground-breaking revolutionary communication mediums that is founded and popularized by millennials? Only time will tell...
Written by DRG / Graphics by DRG
DRG is a graphic designer by profession and a film-maker by ambition, writes kinky stories in his spare time while dreaming about his first feature film. He is also a co-founder of Mathawaada.