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The good, the bad and the trolls

Trolls spare none  

For the 1990s generation, who grew up on a diet of Harry Potter, trolls were monsters who smashed things into smithereens.

But in the world of social media, trolls could also mean anything nasty — from vicious barbs to unkind memes. These are not the trolls of fairy tales, but viral digital motifs that can easily wreck a person’s life or end a filmmaker’s career. Trolls are, therefore, greatly feared.

Anyone, irrespective of power, status and talent, is easy game for trolls and memes, says Shamrin Mohammed, the admin of Troll Malayalam. The page is heavily loaded with references and puns about the Malayali’s two pet themes: politics and cinema. The page has a lot of fans for its images from popular Mohanlal and Mammootty films, blunders of politicians and nostalgic status updates about school years. Troll Malayalam, which has garnered over eight lakh likes, functions like a full-blown media organisation with a core editorial team. “We have a group and a page in the same name. People post memes in the groups first that are then filtered by the admin team, and then the editorial team takes over to to modify the content and graphics.”

International Chalu Union (ICU) is another very popualr Malayalam Troll page that has close to six lakh likes. The group consists of 1 lakh members. They try to keep the platform as democratic as possible, and even allow people with fake IDs, says Hrishikesh Bhaskaran, the admin. “Most of them are comfortable with being anonymous. That lets them say things that they otherwise can’t in public.”

However, they have an in-house rule book. Around 20 members in the core admin filter out the best memes from the thousands that come in and post them on the page. “We make sure that it is funny and politically correct. We do not encourage sexism, minority targeting or maligning of individuals.”

Subash Nair, another admin of Troll Malayalam, admits that they make fun of political parties and film stars equally. “We are apolitical. We will take on anyone if we think he is to be laughed at. We ridicule everyone.”

But, he adds, that they are wary of posts that are scandalous and actively discourage fan fights.“There are so many people using fake names. Some use the name of their favourite stars. We make sure we do not add them to the group.”

Most of these are the fanatic fans who cannot tolerate a word against their hero. They say the fans abuse them all the time. “Initially, they used to threaten that they will come to our house to beat us up. First, we were intimidated. Then, we realised that they just talk more than they act.”

However, the stars are taking the trolls in the right spirit. Mammootty shared a tongue-in-cheek troll on Kasaba, his latest film on his timeline, saying that it was his favourite troll on the film. The film, which has the star playing a cop, received a lot of flak online for bringing back the 1990s’ macho, woman-bashing narrative.

The star made an album of these memes and posted a status update, saying, “... was kind of blown away. I guess this is the modern face of satire. Memes and Trolls are the new whips of the digital generation.”

Some of them were truly funny. One had the star in his macho pose photoshopped with a Game of Thrones background, and it was labelled as “Game of Trolls”. Another compared him to the McDonald’s man.

DC Books has come out with a book on the compilations of trolls from the ICU and Troll Malayalam page. However, they have chosen light-hearted and slightly conventional graphics that remind you of the content in old Malayalam newspapers, says Hrishikesh Bhaskaran, the admin of ICU. “This is to appeal to all sections of people, including those from the pre-Internet eras. We are teaming up with another publisher in December and that book will incorporate more quirky and contemporary ones.”

The academic community has also finally woken up to the massive popularity of trolls on the young psyche. Many are even researching on it.

Suryansu Guha, a provisional Ph.D student of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi did his M.Phil on the element of offense in cybersubcultural humour. He focussed on the Reddit online community, where people share acerbic graphics and articles on their shared interests through platforms called Sub-redits.

“Sometimes, these posts are centred on the offensive and have harmful content, which cannot be circulated in the mainstream spaces. The Sub-redits of Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones are steeped in racial and political humour, which will definitely find censorship in the conventional media.”

The popularity of these new age graphic-driven content online has brought down the readership of blogs, says the anonymous blogger, Localteaparty , who is popular for his subversive posts. “Memes, listicles and GIFS have changed the way we are consuming humour and information. Now, people prefer twitter threads to blog posts.”

He also feels these troll pages cater to an exclusive regional group, often because they are heavily anchored in Tamil movie references.

“The parallels these meme makers draw are just brilliant. One guy compared his endless wait for Dhoni to hit a sixer in a cricket match to that of Vadivelu waiting for a bus to arrive in Kadhalan. Many of my friends outside Tamil Nadu cannot understand any of them because they are so specific to Tamil cinema. For us, cinema is a way of life.”

And, it looks like the meme culture will slowly reshape the way we review films as well. Last week, Facebook exploded with the reviews of Ae Dil Hain Mushkil. A review meme published by the Quint had a picture of Karan Johar, saying “This story has some juice. I’ll make a film on this,” juxtaposed with a blender that had ingredients labelled “rich people”, “brain freeze”, and “SRK”.

Does that mean the conventional film reviews will no longer be relevant? Not really, say Tanul Thakur, the national award-winning film reviewer. “This is the first time I am seeing a meme being used to review a film. It looked like it was designed to tap into a certain kind of audience--a take down, with the sole intention of teaching the filmmaker a lesson. It can never be a well-nuanced argument of the film.” Part of it springs from the desire to be “culturally cool”, he says. “These are icons, who can easily be made fun of. They are famous and mainstream.”

But, Tanul thinks both spaces can co-exist. There are no hard and fast rules in the world now. There are some brilliant GIFs accompanied with funny texts and Vigil Idiot —like sketches that have been equally popular in reviewing films.

“It is an interesting medium. However, the conventional form of writing will have its own niche audience. I do not think one will eat into the other or that there will be a migration from one to the other. There is enough audience there for everything.”

Raise your eyebrows against them or point your fingers at them, it looks like memes are here to stay. Says Suryansu, “They are a perfect illustration of how the visual and the textual can combine to capture attention universally. For some perhaps it's a disease, but one has to appreciate how trolls produce entertainment and laughter combining two mediums in one, two and often three panels.”


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Printable version | Oct 21, 2021 5:28:32 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/The-good-the-bad-and-the-trolls/article16436617.ece

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