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Humour in the Age of Opacity


The velocity of exchange of information has been on the rise since the advent of broadband internet in Mauritius. And the requirements of the outside world have imposed on us the need to upgrade our network capacity in recent years. The unforeseen arrival of the Covid 19 in our lives has increased the acceleration of this phenomenon. True to our primate makeup, all of us got caught up in the delirium of the moment during and post confinement. Some of us went overboard and posted one too many inflammatory things about the powers that be; got arrested for their perceived salacious humour; and became the martyrs that we needed to start a proper conversation on the subject.

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Let us focus on the posts which are most viralable for the moment: Memes. Contrary to popular belief a meme is not a subset of a caricature. A meme as coined by Richard Dawkins in his book “The Selfish Gene” in 1976, is a unit of information which carries within it a particular cultural context. Similar to how genes spread through the genetic pool by virtue of their persistence in a competitive environment, memes permeate culture through their ability to evoke a sense of commonness amongst individuals of a particular group. A good meme provides a sense of catharsis which you did not know you needed.

Mauritians are known for our acetic humour, and our generosity in sharing good laughs at the shortcomings of our friends and adversaries. Mix this with our current legislative and socio-political context, and there are bound to be a couple mishaps. Some more famous than others.

The repression of individuals propagating dissenting and clumsily formulated “jokes” is not this new. However, the advent of the restrictive rules of the ICT Act and the seeming inability of our enforcement entities to have the right discernment between a “dialog” and a vitriolic statement from fellow citizens has caused much harm to the reputation of our cybercrime institutions.

Whilst the need for a structured mechanism to propagate information is urgent, the reality is that we will have to cope with the existing archaic system for the time being. Not everyone can take their “mal en patience”, and some – by virtue of their temperament – are more open to the pleasures of hyperbolic suppositions, and incendiary style of sarcasm.

So what to do when placed in this catch 22? Do we suffer from the consequences and allow the bitterness to consume us, and aim to become martyrs? Or do we rise as mauritians and utilise our strengths, i.e. our dialogs & joie de vivre, to be playful in the face of systemic oppression?

As much we pressure institutions to be more understanding of the rapidly evolving information sharing culture, citizens should become aware of their responsibility in handling the information available to them.

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