The Shape of Water: An Allegorical Critique of Trump

by John Richardson, University of Ottawa

Resistance to Donald Trump’s presidency has taken many forms, including legal challenges, resignations, media criticism, women’s marches, political rebukes and endless rounds of late night mockery. The Best Picture winner at the 90th Academy Awards provides another, less obvious example of resistance. The top film was The Shape of Water, an allegorical love story between a mute woman and a green sea monster.

I am a high school English teacher and an adjunct professor in the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Education with a background in live theatre, critical pedagogy and youth culture. I teach Bachelor of Education students who may one day teach high school English classes.

Part of my course covers the importance of critical literacy, which I believe we can teach by asking teenagers to view film as more than just entertainment but as a vital source of insight on contemporary culture, issues and society.

Many of my classroom discussions focus on the ways in which this year’s top movies, not just Oscar nominees, offer clever responses to the racist, sexist and xenophobic policies and rhetoric that have accompanied Trump’s rise to the top.

Lady Bird argues that the lives of young women are worthy of exploration. Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri offers a flamethrower portrayal of the corruption, racial conflict and violence at the heart of the American dream. Black Panther triumphantly demonstrates that Black actors and filmmakers can produce a Hollywood blockbuster and that African-American culture can yield an exciting, mythological story appealing to all audiences.

But it is The Shape of Water that offers the most detailed, poetic critique of Trump and the hollow promises of his “Make America Great Again” philosophy.

Lives of quiet oppression

Set in 1962 Baltimore, director Guillermo Del Toro’s film tells the story of Elisa, a young mute woman who works as a cleaner at a mysterious government facility that is home to a recently captured “Amphibian Man.” Zelda is her African-American co-worker and Giles, a gay graphic designer whose work and identity are “ahead of his time,” is her roommate.

These are the Americans who live lives of quiet oppression in the past-tense America that shimmers, mythical and revered, at the heart of the Trump campaign promise. The film both upholds and undermines the old mythologies that can provide comfort and reassurance to people whose lives have been disrupted by global trade, population movements and the emergence of AI in the workplace.

‘The Shape of Water’ features the lives of Americans facing everyday oppressions. (Kerry Hayes/Fox Searchlight Pictures)

The Cold War is in full swing in the film, and the dichotomy between the United States and Russia, between “good” and “evil,” is both referenced and undermined.

Americans and Russians are in conflict, but it’s a Russian agent who acts ethically. There is a traditional Main Street dessert shop, but the affable server turns out to be a vile racist and homophobe who adopts a southern accent for marketing purposes and is actually from Ottawa.

The pies look appealing, but they are mass-produced and the store is part of a new phenomena, the franchise. The film is poised at the moment when authenticity is being lost to illusion.

A Trump proxy

Opposing the quiet, marginalized Americans is Strickland, a shadowy government worker upon whose character the filmmakers apply hateful qualities like layers of slime. It becomes evident that Strickland is designed as a bridge to Trump’s present-day political toxicity when a smooth-talking car salesman tells him: “You are the man of the future.”

A further connection to Trump is made when Strickland announces: “The future is bright. You gotta trust in that. This is America.” Here the film has fun with its ironic presentation of the past. As audience members in 2018 watching a film set in a period of time more than half a century ago, we may question whether the future has indeed turned out to be “bright.”

Reading news stories about the Robert Mueller investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged involvement with Russia, we may feel profoundly uneasy about the relationship between trust and leadership.

Witnessing the assault on otherness and a turn to American nativism, we may question what it now means to be American, and where a nation that was once so welcoming to immigrants has gone.

The Shape of Water is an unconventional love story between a mute woman and a sea creature. (Kerry Hayes/Fox Searchlight Pictures)

But then the film also picks up on the way in which truth in the Trump era has been attacked, questioned and undermined. “Bonanza is not violent. It’s real life. The way it was,” Strickland tells his son about the popular Western TV show of the time. A TV show is said to be “true” much in the same way that Trump draws on cable news personalities as experts fit to serve in the White House.

Like Trump, Strickland boasts about his power to sexually assault women when he harasses silent Elisa with the line: “Bet I can make you squawk a little.” He has sex with his wife in a mechanical manner that diminishes and belittles her. His casual vulgarity oozes male privilege. His repellent masculinity crowds out a woman’s agency.

Strickland calls the beautiful South American Amphibian Man an “affront” and takes pleasure in torturing him with his sizzling cattle prod.

“How did they get in?” he asks of the Russian agents who infiltrated his facility, the question echoing the current political discourse around “illegals” and “shithole countries” as well as the president’s restrictive immigration policies.

A rebuke to ignorance

When the mute woman, the Black woman and the gay man act together to free the beautiful “undesirable” from his prison, the film suggests that the creativity and humanism of outsiders can prevail against cruelty and corruption.

Cowardly, vile and literally rotting from having lost fingers earlier in the story, Strickland dies by the same violence he promulgated. He is the real monster. Elisa and Amphibian Man fall in love and slip away to a watery paradise. Breathing underwater, she opens her eyes and looks at him. She is alive.

The ConversationNot everyone can escape to the ocean’s depths to escape the Trump presidency, but we can escape to the movies. The Shape of Water reminds audiences of the humanity of those people who are marginalized and belittled. Its artistry alone is a rebuke to ignorance.

John Richardson, Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Education, University of Ottawa

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Enigma of Burning Yourself Alive

by Bramantyo Indirawan

In Ben Arous, Tunisia, Tarek-el Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi stood in front of the local governor’s office after a policewoman confiscated his fruit cart and also gave him a beating. What came next was a phenomenon that startled the world; igniting revolution and the will of social change.

Bouazizi covered himself in fuel and lit a match, burned himself alive on December 17, 2010. The 26 year old was one of the street vendors that had to pay 3 dinars of extortion everyday to sell his goods; a “lucky” one compared to many who are jobless. On the  day he committed suicide, Bouazizi could not bribe the authorities that then led to a conflict that costed him his earning. On January 4, 2011, the Sidi Bouzid born man finally died in Ben Arous Burn and Trauma Centre —  18 days after his suicide attempt.

Desperation came after the authority rejected the demand in getting his belongings back. With much dismay, the effect was powerful. The self immolation of Bouazizi triggered revolution that eventually created the Arab Spring in the Middle East. It all started in Tunisia when the 23 year rule of President Zile El Abidine Ben Ali finally ended after massive protests and even violent riots. When the unrest broke out government responded with stick and carrot approach, ranging from repression, arrests, internet shutdown to massive job offers.

It was too late, and the Tunisian Revolution went out on a full scale when protests and violence continued. On 14 January 2011, Ben Ali and his family fled to Saudi Arabia — marked the assurance of the government overthrow. Such revolution generated the domino effect of uprisings across the region, started from Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Syria, Morocco to Mauritania.

It was inconceivable that the Arab Spring was precipitated by a street vendor who burned himself alive. Suicide has its reasons;  from illness, philosophical choice, to an atonement of honor like what I have mentioned before in Sword to the Stomach: Seppuku and the Case of Altruistic Suicide.

Self immolation can’t be pinned down to one reason, because it differs from one persons motive to another. While seppuku came from a long line of history and culture, the act of burning yourself alive doesn’t have any established rule. So what are the causes that made a person willingly burn himself or herself to death?

Ablaze in Cause & Effect

Written in a grey marble grave, the green Arabic scripture can be translated to ‘Martyr Mohamed Bouazizi. Peace in his life. And in the next life, have peace as well.’

Truth be told, the martyr didn’t even know what his action would bring to Tunisia and beyond. When setting himself ablaze; Bouazizi was in desperation. What we can found out in stories, interviews, or eyewitness testimony leads to one particular reason that is economy.

As a backbone who provides for his big family, Bouazizi’s frustration can be seen as an exit or a bold protest that goes to the point of no return. It is safe to say that the simple fruit seller burned himself without an agenda to overthrow the government. The economic reason of a man who kills himself triggers the climax for the nation’s social inequality, a catalyst of revolution with no political intention whatsoever — an accidental martyr.

There are cases where people willingly lit themselves on fire to make a political statement. A perfect example would be Thích Quảng Đức, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who burned himself alive in the intersection of Saigon, Vietnam. The year was 1963 when Quảng Đức gave his protest against the persecution of Buddhist by the Catholic Diem regime in 1963. The self immolation was later immortalized by a powerful photo of the burning monk who sits peacefully.

Self-immolation with social and political reasoning happens throughout the modern age. After Quảng Đức thought provoking protest, there are those who imitate his way to deliver a political message. Norman Morisson from Pennsylvania, U. S., burned himself in 1965 to protest the Vietnam War and Jan Palach from Prague, Czezhcoslovakia set himself ablaze in 1968 to protest the invasion of Soviet Union.

What made Bouazizi different is his motives. Although he represented the Tunisian people, and did not plan anything, the fruit seller changed the social political climate indirectly. The other self-immolating individuals mentioned above had political motives right from the start, thus separating Bouazizi’s act from political “sacrifice”.

To some extent, Bouazizi act of self-immolation can be explained by Emile Durkheim theory of suicide. There are four causes of suicide in the sociologist viewpoint; egoistic that comes from a lack of belonging within a community, altruistic that happens because of highly socialized individuals and value the needs of community, anomic that lacks the regulation of individual in society, and fatalistic that position individuals in excessive moral regulation by society.

With these definitions, we can conclude that the cause of self-immolation can relate to altruistic and fatalistic suicide. In Bouazizi case, fatalistic describes it well. This type of suicide happens because of oppression, placing the policewoman and Tunisian government as the oppressor. Excessive regulation leads to a choice that ends in flames for the simple man.

Some self-immolation cases can be altruistic if they are fully aware of what they do carry a good cause they truly believe in that also happens to be the concern of society; a social or political role that eventually benefit others.

The aforementioned three self-immolation event in the sixties can be concluded as altruistic suicide since the three men took a conscious decision that will cost his own life in the name of other people well being.

What Durkheim didn’t explain is the aftermath of a suicide. Although Bouazizi’s reason behind his fatalistic suicide was a way to escape, what happens after he died was arguably the effect of an altruistic suicide. An accidental sacrifice that  connects with the people through representation of frustration  — a combination of both when the oppressed shared the same fate and connects in the altruistic ideals.

A Self Inflicting Violence

Tunisia has a majority of Muslim population that reach 99 percent including Mohamed Bouazizi, a man with a name taken from the prophet Muhammad. Although suicide  is condemned in Islam, his act did not harm anyone in the process.

He visually stunned people with violence at its worst, causing hysteria and provoking minds without physically hurting others. In contrast, there are people or groups who justify suicide bombing in the name of religion, hurting and killing people. According to Chicago Project on Security & Threats, there are about 5,430 suicide bombing attacks that kill 55,022 people since 1982 to 2016.

In the Islamic viewpoint, self-immolation and suicide attack are a fallacy that goes against the core values of religion. Cheating death is a sin and both phenomenon started with a will to kill themselves. But when we look to the external world, it differs significantly. One limits the agonizing death to his or herself and the other takes along casualties — terrorizing and inflicting fear.

Self-immolation can be complex, it’s a self inflicting violent suicide that has multiple purpose depending on the one who execute it. If we dissect the word origin, “immolation” originally meant sacrifice. Later on, the definition added the role of fire. In Merriam-Webster dictionary, self-immolation is defined as a deliberate and willing sacrifice of oneself often by fire.

The “sacrifice” that burns violent flames gets passed on from generation to generation with its own purpose. From Hindu customs such as sati that made widows burn themselves in her husband funeral pyre, Russian orthodox known as Soshigateli that enact “fire baptism”, monks that protest by self-immolation, to Bouazizi that lit a fire in desperation.

Bouazizi self-immolation is a reenactment of past practices like Quảng Đức did in the sixties that spark other protests, and a 49 year old restaurant owner Abdel-Moneim Jaafar who burned himself before the Egyptian Parliament in January 28, 2011 that led to Hosni Mubarak’s resignation.  A second coming spreads from the Middle East that include the same act by Mohsen Bouterfif, Maamir Lotfi, and Abdelhafid Boudechicha in Tunisia. Sadly enough, however, the following events do not have the powerful effect as the “first” ones, in fact, most ended up as the anti-climax.

There are still voices unheard. In Indonesia, Sondang Hutagalung committed suicide by self-immolation as a protest to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono government. The 22 year old law school student was reportedly disappointed by the human rights violation and wanted a change.

On 7 December, 2011 Sondang burned himself in front of the Presidential Palace and died three days after. Unlike Tunisia, Indonesia stayed the same without significant change. When burning yourself won’t change anything, what does it take to be heard?

(BI)

Source: Tom Chesshyre, A Tourist in the Arab Spring (2013), Emile Durkheim, Le Suicide (1897), On Iar-gwu.org, Foreignpolicy.com, Washingtonpost.com, Aljazeera.com, Newyorker.com, Uchicago.edu, E-ir.info, Time.com, Globalvoices.com

Famous People Hologram for Sale

[Jakarta, LTTW] Nobody can bring back the dead. With that in mind, they can still be immortalized through memories, ideas, media and other inheritance that they left on earth. Artists who sing their way throughout generations left their records for us to hear and stories that are documented to be shared over various medium.

Back in 2012, Tupac Shakur, who died in 1996, came alive in a music event called The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Topless with a cross necklace in his chest, the deceased artist performed and shared songs with living artists Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre on stage. Clearly it wasn’t really him, but the live “optical illusion” brought back the Harlem, New York born singer and astonished the festival attendees. In the 2014 Billboard Music Award, another deceased legend was brought back to live in MGM Grand Arena, Las Vegas. Michael Jackson emerged in a gold jacket, white shirt, and red trousers; performing and dancing to Slave to the Rythm with 16 real life backup dancers.

Hologram USA was the mastermind behind these two stage acts. As the name indicate, they claim hologram as the main technology that brings back the dead artists. With permission by families of the dearly departed, the company can resurrect artists to please and shock audiences. Regarding the hologram itself, it’s actually a different technology called Pepper’s Ghost and it has been around since 19th century. Improvements were made by Hologram USA using high-quality video projection technology that combines motion capture technology with 3D computer-generated imaging (CGI).

Fast forward to 2018, the Hologram USA Theater stand proud in Hollywood, Los Angeles—showcasing dead artists such as Billie Holiday. The American Jazz singer and songwriter who died in 1959 sings nine times a day in a 40 minutes show. Of course she will never be tired because it’s only a projection of the famed singer. It is clear that the “hologram” displayed in the theater is for entertainment purpose, otherwise they wouldn’t charge admission tickets. But what makes this technology more useful and can move forward is the “reachability” that it can be bring to the masses.

We can see the ideal purpose of this projection technology as a way to document someone with importance, sharing their lives to those who put interest, remembering a legacy, or simply breaking boundaries by giving a near life experience with them. The technology is also morally acceptable as long as it still honors the artists reputation. On the other hand, technology can be a product of its own. By sharing and inspiring people through this projection technology, interests will arise from the masses. When Tupac performed in 2012, the company behind the stunt was included in the highlight and a box full of opportunities was left open.

By showing what the digital projection technology can do, people can use or improve it for other reasons. Demand keeps coming and even the living are also utilizing it. In 2014, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi partnered with MDH Hologram and used Pepper’s Ghost method for his electoral campaign—rallying his supporters in more than 1,500 locations. Adrénaline Studio also joined the bandwagon by projecting the French president candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon in Paris and Lyon at the same time in February 2017. Campaigning to gain voters for the election, he continued the gimmick in April with wider broadcast from Dijon to 7 other places in France.

This just goes to show that technology can also be a commodity that sells. Hologram USA started with a bang by resurrecting Tupac and Michael Jackson, but afterwards they also sell their patented technology. As stated in the official website, everyone can buy Hologram USA Eyeliner, the main set of tools and system that can project people—dead or alive.

The improved Pepper’s Ghost can immortalize people in an effective way, but it also has the same principle of watching movies and documentaries or screens that are played live in concerts. The future is visual, we will see and of course buy what comes ahead.

 

(BI)

Stephen Hawking: Returning to the Universe he called Home

[Jakarta, LTTW] Recently the world lost one of the most beloved men of science who constantly questions the universe. Stephen William Hawking passed away at the age of 76 in Cambridge, United Kingdom. The cosmologist was known for his work on black hole, furthering general relativity, and quantum gravity.

Perhaps one of his biggest contributions to mankind is how he successfully reintroduces natural and formal science to the “ignorant majority”—making black hole and big bang as parts of the popular culture. In 1988, A Brief History of Time was published to the world and placed itself as one of the bestselling book of all time. In the book that stood for 237 weeks on Times of London bestseller list, Stephen Hawking explains numerous concepts such as universe, space and time, black holes, and even time travel.

Hawking concludes in the 256-page book; that by principle everyone including philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people can be able to take part in the discussion of why we and the universe exist. He was indeed an author; tackling universe, inviting us to question and answer it together. An “artist” who shows us the wonders of physics and what it can bring to the world.

One of the best minds of our time, Hawking had an exceptional ability to visualize complex concepts and ideas of physics into his head and simplify it. As a scientist he held the honorary Fellow of Royal Society of Arts (FRSA), received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the U.S.A, and was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematic (a position widely known to scientists as the Newton’s Chair, supposedly the most prestigious “chair” in the science world) at the University of Cambridge. He also had several other publications, with The Grand Design (2010) as one of his last books he co-authored.

Behind the brain there is the persona of a man. Sitting on a wheelchair with his head slightly tilted, he spoke with a speech-generating device to verbalize everything in his mind and answers any questions. A Briton who had to suffer amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) from 1963 at the age 21 that progressively paralyze him. The doctor even predicted that Hawking would only have two years to live since the diagnosis, but as we all know, he had lived and contributed for decades before finally passed away. The iconic scientist was also known as a loving family man with a penchant for humor. He once said that it would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love. Hawking’s children, Lucy, Robert, and Tim remembered him as a man with inspiring brilliance and sense of humor .

Some others will also recall him from his humor, which he also acknowledged. “I have developed a desire to make the most of each an every minute. Keeping an active mind has been vital to my survival. As has been maintaining a sense of humor,” said Hawking in the documentary Stephen Hawking: A Brief History of Mine. Becoming one with popular culture, Hawking also arrange a time traveller’s party, transformed into a cartoon on the popular television show The Simpson, and even played poker with Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The man who was born on Galileo’s death and died on Einstein’s birthday was all that he can be; a cosmologist, theoretical physicist, an author, a family man, a husband, a dad, a grandfather, a brother, a teacher, a student, a curios and critical character, a persistent person, and a humorous man who try to make sense of the universe. Farewell Professor Hawking, we wish you a thrilling journey into the eternal that perhaps would lead you to countless amazing discoveries.

 

(BI)

A Tale of the Meme Generation

by Bramantyo Indirawan

Once upon a time, the internet was born into the modern world and change it for better or worst. Robert E. Kahn and Vinton Cerf, the fathers of Internet, developed Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) for the communication model and set standards of how data can be transmitted within multiple networks.

Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, adopted TCP/IP on January 1, 1983. After that defining moment, the blueprint was made and researchers began to assemble the “network of networks” and eventually took the form of modern Internet as we know it today.

With just a click away, we can learn something new and explore the vast data the internet has to offer. From Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, facts about Borobudur Temple, to lessons on how to draw a simple picture or how to replicate the Monalisa.

In the midst of it all, meme spread itself like wildfire. Meme is  a phrase(s) or a word(s) that seems to appear from somewhere and no one really knows who makes it in the first place, even though it is traceable. It can take in many forms: a photo of a grumpy cat, an edited 9/11 footage that envokes dark humour, a joke in the  form of 80s music video, a brief scene from a movie or television show, and fictional horror stories are the examples of an internet meme.

Yes, we can find an array of seemingly limitless information online. Internet meme itself can spread ideas that manifest into photos, videos, stories, or other forms that also spreads in the internet; side by side with other information such as news and scientific papers and articles.

Although there are some sites that can’t be accessed by minors due to age restriction, most of the information in the internet including memes are accessible to anyone; from younglings to elders.

The meme generation is molded into this world where anything can be shared. It could give different effect: it could be bad if the content is inappropriate, such as taunting a disabled person, but it could be good if it is entertaining and brings laughter and happiness and it also can be both – when people laugh at a disabled person, thus blurring the definition of morality.

Arguably, meme could be nothing. It’s neither bad nor good. It is a meaningless thought that “replicate itself” in the human mind that brings people to a state of nowhere.

Stabbed Because of Memes

Two reasons internet memes can be entertaining are because of their humorous nature and they relate to people. Hence, people share it, and became viral.

But meme can also has an unexpected, troubling impact. One meme that tells a fictional horror story could trigger two 12-year old girls to kill their schoolmate in Milwaukee, United States.

The meme is called Slender Man, a story about a tall and thin blank face creature wearing a suit. He can stretch or shorten his arms and have tentacles protruding from his back. The creature was created in an internet forum on 10th June 2009  by Eric Knudsen and replicate itself, becoming an internet myth.

Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser took interest in Slender Man after they learned about the creature in Creepypasta Wiki, a website dedicated to horror-related legends and images. Apparently, they came to believe that the Slender Man was real and wanted to prove their loyalty to him so they could become his followers, prove his existence, and prevent him from harming their families.

The two believed that the only way they could become the Slender Man’s followers was to murder someone, so they attempted to kill their schoolmate, Payton Leutner, in a forest on the 31st May of 2014.

After they stabbed Leutner 19 times with a 13cm kitchen knife, Weier and Geyser fled the area. Leutner miraculously survived the horrendous attack after a cyclist found her in a ditch nearby the forest where they stabbed her. The underage murderers were finally caught and claimed they were mentally ill at the time. In 25th December 2017, Weier was sentenced to 25 years in a mental hospital while Geyser is still waiting for persecution.

Although both the receiver and the content is responsible for this gruesome mess in the forest of Wisconsin, it also shows how a superficial meme have a serious and troubling impact on real life. The randomness, shallowness, and the lack of “real” lessons that memes has to offer can make a simple joke or cheap thrills into an abomination.

Apart from triggering a homicide, creators of internet memes often stole pictures of other people and put inapropriate text to it only to amuse the crowds. Case in point, Heidi Crowter. Crowter is a girl with down-syndrome whose photo was once exploited and became a meme, captioning her disability. Her mother acted out against this vile attempt and tried to fight the internet, only to get attacked herself in a form of a meme.

If we separate the internet meme such as Slender Man and the stabbing case, we still have internet meme as a form of media or content that doesn’t stand as anything with depth or morals. Although it has proven to be a communication tool; expressing thoughts and even mental illness such as depression, it is still just a shallow replicant with no clear function and meaning whatsoever.

Internet Meme vs. Everything Else

Before the internet came to flourish, an evolutionary biologist named Richard Dawkins coined the term meme on his book titled The Selfish Gene (1974). According to the Briton, meme is the spread of ideas, tunes, behaviour, or style from person to person within a culture.

“Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation,” wrote Dawkins in his first published book.

The word meme itself derived from the Greek word mimeme, meaning ‘to which is replicated’. Dawkins also thinks that it could alternatively be thought of as being related to “memory”, or the French word même.

To some extent, there are parallels and similarities between his proposed theory and the internet meme. Both replicate itself from people to other people and stuck into their brain and the form is more or less the same; from ideas such as fictional stories, tunes such as songs, and behaviour such as a viral dance move.

Although they both has the same characteristics, we must separate both meme and internet meme. Meme comes from an argument that emphasize another replicant in human other than genes and can spread to any medium.

Meanwhile internet meme differentiate itself by successfully transcend into the mainstream and use the word “meme” as a category of popular consumption for the masses. It chooses a media that spreads at a fast rate and linger on people minds. People pass it around, share it on different social media platforms, post it for likes while hoping that it will relate to everyone, fishing for attention, and distract yourself from the real problems; the meme generation is here to stay.

Luckily, there is always a way to be rid of this aimless endeavor: steer away from the mindless internet meme and open your horizon to meaningful ideas that matter.

We can argue that stories with a set of values and morals stand opposite the internet meme because the depth that it brings. When growing up, children learn simple but fundamental lessons such as good or bad, the importance of working hard, to follow your dreams, crime does pay, and be kind to others from stories told by their parents.

A valuable guided* lesson is given when parents read their children stories before going to bed or other occasion like teaching them how to listen, read, and speak,  preparing them for the real world.

Even some myth can give us lessons due to the moral values contained in it. In Myth: It’s Meaning and Functions in Ancient and Other Cultures (1970), Geoffrey Kirk defines myth as tales that have been passed down from generation to generation and embedded in their tradition.

In addition to that, myths usually address daunting themes such as creation, life, death, and answer major life questions. “Myths often include deities and other supernatural beings in their list of characters, and they may tell cosmic events such as the birth of the universe” wrote Josepha Sherman in his book titled Storytelling: An Encyclopedia of Mythology and Folklore (2008).

Take a look at Greek mythology; the stories are rich in teachings and moral values. The story of Pandora opening a box that shouldn’t be opened teaches us about temptation, the moral of value of Sisyphus is bad deeds will ultimately lead to punishment, and Hercules’ 12 feats shows us how a good life can be accomplished if we can prove our worth.

The Indian mythology Mahabrata tells a classic, epic war between good and evil and its consequences. Indonesian myths mostly tell stories about supernatural or spiritual beings such as Nyi Roro Kidul who rules the sea. Obviously, stories are not limited to myth only.

Folklore serves the same functions as mythology. The lessons that unfold in the story can inspire people to do good and grow up with “pillars” of morals that make them stand strong.

Archer Taylor in Folklore and the Student of Literature, as quoted by Mazhar-ul –Islam, says that folklore is the material that is handed down by tradition either by word of mouth or for custom and practice. It can take in various forms of folk literature and art, such as:  folksong, folktales, riddles, proverbs, and so on.

Indonesia, obviously, has its own folklore (which is called “dongeng” or “cerita rakyat” in Indonesian language). Some of the notable ones are Bawang Putih Bawang Merah, that tells the struggle of a woman who finally finds happiness, Malin Kundang teaches people to be good to their parents, and Roro Jonggrang teaches us to never cheat or lie. All these tales teach people moral values to be implemented in their daily life.

When technology takes over, children are remain guided by their parents but not with the means of stories since televisions, smartphones, and tablets take over that role. Those gadgets provide attractive audio visual to keep children busy. Actually, it is not completely bad since the programs still contain educational and moral lessons. However, as they grow up and become more adept at technology, they will be more exposed to internet memes.

Without value or morals to stand on, internet memes will sip into the minds of children, where they ‘consume’ it for everyday entertainment as their means of communication. Critical thinking is a basis for how we see the world and the process of consuming a worthwhile content like stories can prepare us for this.

It doesn’t mean that we can’t laugh off a joke that an internet meme gave us, but if it is the only thing that fill the space of our mind, isn’t that troubling? Balance is the key.

Whether we like it or not the meme generation flourishes. If internet memes survived throughout the ages and passed on from generation to generation, will it became a myth too? A modern myth of nonsense that is. Internet meme is here to stay and replicate itself into a daze of confusion.

*  According to Sacred Bridge Foundation, one of the most fundamental elements in storytelling is the guidance element. This element emanates from the nature of storytelling, in which the storyteller and his or her listeners have a face-to-face communication.

 

(BI/BP)