Viral Warriors of Kerala

Johny ML
11/08/2016

There’s a viral fever of epidemic proportions in Kerala. Curious and fun-hunting Malayalees make anything and everything viral in social media. Malayalees, armed with their humour and cynicism, meticulously make trolls, often believing that they are working toward a social cause. One has to see it as a phenomenon characterising a self-righteous society that has so many people equipped with education, smart phones as well as a lot of free time.

For a non-Malayalee, the latest viral phenomenon among Keralites could sound quite eerie, strange and absolutely illogical. A recent news report that went viral goes like this: A couple on a motorcycle fell into the river. A young army man who was off duty witnessed this accident and jumped into the river to rescue the couple. He reached the woman who was struggling for her life, but the moment the soldier held her, she protested saying she could only be saved by her husband! The husband in question must be a proud man for his wife’s display of extreme loyalty even at the mouth of death. Literate Malayalees went crazy over this news, and soon it was all over the virtual world both extolling and condemning the drowning woman and her wifely loyalty.

Many who help information and trolls go viral on Internet just don’t think much beyond the instant pleasure while pressing the ‘share’ button. While such innocent sharing contributes a lot to the massive reach of such curious news stories, there are other Malayalees who make it a point to give value judgements and offer their two bits of wisdom. In this sense, an average Malayalee who enjoys making things viral believes himself as a person who has earned the right to impart his considered opinion on the subject that he is intending to make viral. Whether it’s politics or culture or to use a cliché, to discuss anything under the sun, a Malayalee uses his untested knowledge.

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In a democratic space it’s always permissible to hold opinion and discuss it in public forums. Before the Internet days, these discussions used to happen in tea shops, coffee houses, barber shops, offices, tailoring shops, street corners, house parties and so on. These public and private spaces have been taken over by social media today. And unlike the discussions in the above mentioned places/spaces, the social media viral-ing and discussions come to have fundamentalists streak in them.

If in other parts of the world, videos of people singing or jumping or getting drunk go viral just for the fun of it, in Kerala each video stirs up a discussion forum which in fact fuels the viral-ing. Malayalees have become strongly opinionated, so much so that one would wonder whether their opinions are a result of education or the lack of it. Education and health are two vital parameters for sustainable development of any society, and even the Nobel Laureates Amartya Sen has hailed Kerala for fulfilling these two parameters. But education in Kerala seems to have misguided people considerably; they believe that having an opinion and believing in it are the symptoms of good education. They simply forget the fact that discretion is also a good effect of education. Before they express their opinion or make anything viral or decide to troll someone or some ideology, they would think several times. It is pertinent to understand that all that we spread around on social media isn’t really necessary for the well-being of our society.

When Facebook caught up with a majority of people in the world, there had been studies implying that the information that we consume via Facebook doesn’t make a person `informed’ of anything in a deeper sense than just making him/her ‘informed’ of something. We consume information only because it’s available. And anything in excess is poisonous. Excessive intake of information also causes grave injuries to our sense of discretion. Most of the viral links are so because they are tipped to be viral phenomenon. The number that shows in the corner of these links (14k, 45.8k etc.) is a provocation exactly the way in which mobs are provoked in a street after a football match or after some rumours of somebody hoarding beef. A Japanese or Chinese child singing an action song is very cute to look at. The discerning among us would smile and leave it there or share it with the dear ones, privately. But the majority does the other way round. They simply get excited and click the ‘share’ button helping it go viral further. Here Malayalees’ enthusiasm to make things go viral has taken a vicious magnitude. It makes one think that Shakespeare had anticipated it almost five centuries before. He wrote: ‘Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’

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Signification is liable to go through multiple phases of meaning changes, as both the sign and the signified are not fixed or fixated by meanings, linguists say. Viral phenomena are the invisible acts of signification; it means someone is desperate to say something but finds his/her words inadequate. But with images, they could create a new world altogether, full of sound and fury and signifying so many things they believe. It was this belief of Malayalees that made another video go viral on social media. A college boy and left activist wrote a poem a few years back, some people distributed it via Whatsapp, and fascinated by the strong nostalgic and romantic element of the poem, a college girl from another part of Kerala recited/sang it strumming a guitar, soulfully. It went viral. Discussions spiraled into the proportions of Hurricane Katrina, causing severe damage to many reputations of those involved in these discussions. Finally, investigators among the journalists dug out even another poetess who in fact ‘had written’ the poem that has gone viral now. Claims and counter claims enliven the social forums and then peter out without leaving a trace, making several of the discrete ones wonder why they were forced to see this gory game of the so called intellectual gladiators, from the galleries.

These sword fights on social media are taken at different levels, forcing the real intellectuals to embark on the subject in print media, which have mellowed down thanks to the feverish activities of the social media journalism. If social media is a free for all street, print journals have become board rooms or academic cells or even coffee shops attached to public libraries where considered deliberations on subjects happen without spilling blood and hatred. This may sound a call to go back to the old puritan ways of discussions. But deflecting viral phenomena needs aid from some quarters, and at present print journals and books seem to be much more elegant, intelligent and dignified spheres of intellectual engagements than the jellikkettu in the social media.