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The conquest of the world as meme: memetic visuality and political humor in critiques of the hindu right wing in India

Media, Culture & Society

India
Anirban K. Baishya
First Published January 4, 2021 Research Article
https://doi.org/10.1177/0163443720986039

Article first published online: January 4, 2021
Anirban K. Baishya
Communication & Media Studies, Fordham University, New York, NY, USA

Corresponding Author:

Anirban K. Baishya, Communication & Media Studies, Fordham University, 714, Martino Hall, 45 Columbus Avenue Fordham University, New York, NY 10023-7414, USA. Email: abaishya@fordham.edu

Abstract

With the rise of internet-based digital participatory cultures in India, social networks have become sites of volatile political discourse. As in other countries such as Brazil, China and Russia, this has led to the concurrent eruption of memes in India’s political landscape. This paper examines humorous politicized memes that are deployed to critique the Hindu right-wing in India. Through an examination of the formal nature of the meme and its connection to other visual forms such as the caricature, the visual joke and the graphic novel, I demonstrate how seemingly frivolous objects can hold potential for serious discourse. Employing a mix of visual and textual analysis, as well as a survey of virally circulating memes on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, I forward the concept of “memetic visuality”—a mode of imagining the world and the political community through a series of intertextual connections. I argue that social media communication has led to the eruption of a memetic mode of engaging with political culture in India, in which virally fueled parody and satire infuses seemingly non-memetic objects with meme-like characteristics. In doing so, memetic political discourse in India becomes part of a larger global language of online political discourse.

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