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Memes and Pacesetters at the Global Village Square
Category :- Culture & Society Author :- Declan Forjong Mbecha 
Posted on July 4, 2017, 1:25 am


Image credit: www.literaryyard.com

The global village is conceived of as an arena capable of instantaneously uniting different groups of people across geographical spaces through computers, televisions, radios, and newspapers. That mirror through which an individual vividly visualizes the happenings in the world; that mirror which reveals the uniqueness of diversified opinions; that mirror which breaks down barriers of distance, and probably time (?), and ushers the individual into the world stage, as people become each other’s neighbor in the virtual world of cyberspace. It is also a fertile land of opportunities – business & employment, scholarships & academics, friendship circles are widened, an entertainment platform. It is a hectic drama, beautiful, attractive, seductive & inspiring the desire to be a part. In the global village, your individuality might appear lost in the plethora of faces juggling for space. Yet, it has only created a niche for itself and sometimes it surges to the fore and goes viral. You become trendy, inspiring a loyal base of copycats, ever ready to mimic the “swag” you exhibit. However, to what extent is the image presented on the global village square a faithful reconstruction of the actual personality?

The internet age has led to the proliferation of social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, Periscope and many others you can think of. These platforms have strongly gained prominence on the media scene. I believe this is because they are ready, easily and quickly accessed through mobile gadgets anywhere and at any time the owner of a smartphone deems it fit. Whether you are at a party, or a funeral service, at work, in the classroom, at the marketplace, a gym or at the mall, chances are that you can get firsthand information from your handy, before you get to see it on other media channels like the television, computer or the papers. However, these social media tend to have what I call a high manipulative syndrome. A situation in which individuals or groups of persons intentionally and skillfully alter the facts of an occurrence, or information about a known celebrity, injecting their own opinion to an existing news story or completely building a story of their own around a public figure. Sensationalism is what it is!

A glaring example will be the sarcastic quotes that make the rounds on social media purported to come from Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe. Whether these quotes are true or not, they succeed through the process of suspension of disbelief. According to Wikipedia, “suspension of disbelief has been defined as a willingness to suspend one's critical faculties and believe the unbelievable; sacrifice of realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment.” In the case of the viral posts attributed to a person, the subject concerned usually has some characteristics that make the quote attributed to them believable. As for Mugabe, for example, it is his frankness and no-nonsense attitude, especially towards people and things he detests. Thus, after the wave of xenophobia that gripped South Africa, a quote was making the rounds on social media, purportedly uttered by Mugabe: ‘South Africans will kick down a statue of a dead white man but won’t even attempt to slap a live one. Yet they can stone to dead a black man simply because he is a foreigner....’- R.G Mugabe. He becomes the writer’s agent to express disgust at the callousness with which black South Africans attacked fellow Africans from other countries.

 

 Besides castigating the anti-immigrant violence that occasionally grips South Africa, the quote seems to consider the perpetrators as cowards who have no courage to confront the real source of their economic and social woes – apartheid, the effects of which can still be felt in the socio-economic inequalities between black and white South Africans. In fact, Mugabe has become a kind of mascot for lighthearted jokes that often border on misogyny.

At the end of last year and the start of this year, the Cameroon social media went agog with an image of the minister of sports and physical education, Pierre Ismael Bidoung Mkpatt, bowing in respect to the head of state. It was during a ceremony at the presidency to formerly receive the Indomitable Lionesses after their brilliant participation at the African Women’s Football Cup of Nations hosted by Cameroon. Soon, the internet was awash with memes of the minister bowing to his boss. This became known as the Bidoung Mkpatt challenge, as Cameroonians tried to reproduce the bow, not without humor and creativity. Someone took time to illustrate peculiarities of the bow as shown in the photo here.

This is how the website www.lebledparle.com describes the bow: “le geste du Ministre exprime un grand respect, mêlé de crainte et peut être comparable aux réverences effectuées en face des membres de familles royales.”  [Tr. the minister’s gesture is an expression of great respect, mixed with fear and, probably, similar to the reverence shown in front of royal family members]. In a country where the president is not much different from a despotic king, it becomes clear why Cameroonians took to social media to ridicule the minister. The memes are a satire on the cult of personality. In this case, social media highlights the discontent of the populace towards those in power whose ‘almighty-aura’ causes their subordinates to sort of worship them without hesitation or regret.

However, the Bidoung Mkpatt challenge creates a flow of jocundity in festive milieus. A dad doing a Bidoung Mkpatt to his son on his birthday – showing, perhaps, his fatherly love.  A brother does a Bidoung Mkpatt to congratulate a sister at her Masters’ thesis defense reception party. Here, the Bidoung Mkpatt challenge has been reconstructed to suit the spirits of the occasion for which it is simulated. The fun side of the Bidoung Mkpatt bow was recreated when the Indomitable Lions returned from Gabon with the African Nations Cup trophy early in the year and went to the presidency to present it to the head of state. The First Lady, Chantal Biya, could not help but chuckle at the sight of players staging their Bidoung Mkpatt in front of the presidential couple. The player's action could be read as a subtle ridicule of the minister, their boss, as his ministry supervises the country’s sporting activities. But it also takes away the genuine expression of awe and respect that the minister initially intended his bow to portray.

 

All over the world, people seem to be inventing new challenges almost every day. Some of them with potentially dangerous or even fatal consequences. The planking and thigh gap challenges have spread across the globe with the help and power of social media. Planking also called the lying flat game, is an Australian-born phenomenon which simply was inspired by dancehall steps. A 25-year-old carpenter didn’t know it would emerge into the popular trend it is when he decided to create a Facebook fan based page with different photos on planking. But to his surprise, it grew to have 120.000 followers. It went viral. Everyone wanted to give planking a shot. People would have their friends snap them while planking on strange and often weird public places; a public trash can, a car, a market square, park benches etc., because the stranger your planking space, the more appealing your photo would be. BBC.com reports of the death of a man in his 20s who tried planking on his balcony, but fell off into the arms of death.