By Aashish Mishra
Kathmandu, Apr. 30: Staying indoors for days on end is not an easy task for anyone, especially when you have little to do to pass the time. Couple this with the coronavirus crisis raging all around them and people are understandably stressed to the brim. So how are they coping with it?
Well, 18-year-old Aashik Budhathoki said that distraction was his coping mechanism. But how exactly does he keep himself distracted? Through memes, he said. “Memes are a ray of sunshine amidst the dark gloomy clouds of corona right now,” he expressed.
Prajita Dahal, 21, also said that she followed memes to have a laugh and let go some of the stress. “Memes are light-hearted fun that put a smile on my face,” she said, adding, “They are a necessary counter-balance to the depressing reality that we are all living in right now.”
Defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as cultural units that spread from person to person, memes have always been a stable and highly visible presence on social media platforms. And as cultural units, they often take the burning issues of the day and package them in a humorous way, which is exactly what makes them appealing, according to self-proclaimed “regular meme follower” Kavi Niroula.
“They take contemporary issues that are serious by nature and put a funny spin on them,” said Niroula, 27, who added, “This is what delights the audience. Memes highlight the amusing side of sombre occasions and give people a comic escape from the sadness around them.”
This is also what the admins of the popular Nepali page ‘meme Nepal’ think. One of the first and largest meme pages of the country, meme Nepal is present on multiple social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube and it has witnessed a wild increase in page traffic and activity since the lockdown began on March 24.
“People from all backgrounds and walks of life send us messages, react to our content and comment on our posts,” said Nirajan Timilsina, one of the founder admins of the page. “Even people such as CEOs, bankers, high-ranking professionals, artists, sports stars and the like, who may not follow memes as devoutly as youths and students, are very active on our pages these days and can be seen taking a liking to memes, in general, during the lockdown.”
Timilsina hypothesised that the increase in activity may be because of the free time at people’s disposal these days and their need for an escape. “We have always sought to promote happiness and work with a philosophy of laughing and making others laugh,” he said.
“People now want to look away from the upsetting reality of COVID-19 and that is why they may be turning towards memes.”
Jehovah Krishna Shahi, 52, supported this hypothesis. A teacher by profession, he is one such person that Timilsina described above as “may not follow memes”. In fact, he admitted that he had, in the past, called memes a waste of time and had reprimanded his students on multiple occasions for bringing up memes in class discussions. But now, he shares almost 10-12 memes a day and has liked no less than five meme pages on Facebook from his own account.
“I never really thought of it but memes are an art form,” Shahi said. “It takes real creativity to take something as distressing as the coronavirus pandemic and turn it into a tasteful joke that we can laugh at. It is amazing!” he exclaimed.
Regarding the types of memes proving popular, Timilsina said that people were preferring memes that invoked childhood memories and nostalgia. “Old films and series, things to do with school and college time and the like are really finding their place among the population during the lockdown,” he said.
While memes may have picked up significantly during the lockdown, Timilsina is cautious about their future after this shutdown come to an end. “Memes are a part of culture and, hence, will take time to grow and flourish,” he said. However, he is hopeful, “When we started with meme Nepal in 2014, memes were practically non-existent in Nepal. But in the past six years, they have grown to become a staple of our social media culture. So, there is reason to believe that this will continue growing and evolving with social tastes.”