Recently I came across on the social media platform Twitter, a vintage photograph that had been imposed with a Sinhala text that combined both words and emoticons or ‘emojis’ as they are better known, presenting a commentary intended for circulation (or ‘sharing’ as it would be called in the cyber realms) through social media platforms intended for humour. I have presented here in this article the computer graphics infused photograph circulated online which, to the best of my knowledge does not violate any copyright laws and is not intended to do so either.
The Sinhala text reads what can be translated to English as follows –‘Girls in and around Kandy are supposed to call this the ‘Menike haircut’. I don’t know for sure either, was told by an akka in a salon around Kandy. Supposedly a great hereditary haircut. I have no clue about these things.’ Emoticons / emojis with faces fulsomely laughing with tears streaming down the eyes can be seen along with the Sinhala text.
‘Menike’ as the term denotes in Sinhala parlance has its roots with reference to Kandyan women/girls of the upper strata. And of course, though the Sinhala word akka literally means elder sister, the context of contemporary parlance and colloquial usage infers as per the Sinhala text, reference to possibly a hairdresser or a female employee at a salon.
Given the vintage of the photograph, the portrayed child is now possibly deceased. The attire and adornments visible on the child’s person denote her to be upper-class Kandyan.
On seeing this I posted two comments in reply to the post that featured the material in question, which are reproduced here as follows.
The first one reads: - Decades from now the Hip & Happening’ of 2day may be ridiculed as ‘godey’ & ‘cha’ by e so called ‘in crowd’ of e future...
The second one reads as: – Whoever this little girl may have been, (very likely deceased now) mocking a child’s appearance/looks can never be ‘healthy#humor’... The digitally created cyber realm with its manifold avenues for group communication creates its own dynamics of ethics.
Cyber culture is one where faceless commentators can present ideas or information that may be accepted, rebuked or simply ‘shared’ to possibly further discussion on that particular idea or information, with the ‘sharer’ sometimes stating that his/her sharing does not denote endorsement. Cyber culture is interesting and intriguing to study, to say the least.
One of the critical areas of cyber culture that pose questions to the modern world is how social ethics and values are affected by cyber culture and vice versa. Another interesting aspect about cyber culture is that criticism of cyber communications (which could include written texts and nonverbal visual graphics) is that it could originate from an author/creator whose identity is not disclosed, unlike in most mainstream print and electronic media (TV and Radio).
Therefore, even deducing the identity markers of the author/creator of a particular communication if not cited within the communication itself, can be gauged by means of analyzing the text itself.
Today, we see in Sri Lanka a modern culture / mindset that laugh at names such as, Siripala, Piyadasa, Ukkubanda. The ‘pastoral vintage’ of these names would make them sound ‘yokel’ to the contemporary urban ear. I remember years ago, during my schooldays at Wesley College, one of our most celebrated masters at that time, Mahasen Shantha Kumar de Silva aka Kumar de Silva, better known in College as ‘Kumar sir’ say in class one day, that while every generation develops its trends and vogues, fails to realize that in time to come those too will become outdated and scoffed at. Kumar sir said very specifically, the Christian/first names we (his students) have which seem modern today, will one day seem old and rustic to succeeding generations, like the fate cast upon Siripala, today. The first tweet I posted cited above, reflected that idea which Kumar sir impressed upon his students many years ago.
Whether or not the ‘hairstyle’ of the little girl depicted in the photograph discussed in this article was the ‘vogue’ back then, and whether it is making a ‘comeback’ or not I have no idea. Who is/was she and of what parentage was she, I have no idea. And frankly, it is of no interest to me either.
The more pressing matter that struck me when I saw this piece of cyber communication is reflected in the second tweet I posted. I pray dear reader, you will not misread the purpose of this article as a petty crusade for Kandyan honour or dignity. The idea I wish to offer is hopefully one that is of universal worth.
Sri Lankans have a tendency to seek cheer through laughter, very eagerly. Possibly a cultural trait? Well, we do have a popular theatre culture that is now lamented by some theatre practitioners as one engineered for cheap laughs and comedy that offers no substance for thought.
In the course of my work as a theatre reviewer I have cited several instances where I found laughter erupting from the audience that showed an appalling level of sensibilities on the part of some theatregoers.
Three such reviews published in the Sunday Observer that can be cited as touching on this matter can be found in the reviews of the following stage plays – Dasa Mallige Bungalawa (published as two parts on 9/11/2014 and 23/11/2014), The Irish Curse (published on 16/08/2015) and Next to Normal (published on 4/12/2016).
Analysing how laughter and the politics of laughter work in the sphere of Sri Lankan theatre is certain to be an intriguing prospect on the lines of sociology and theatre studies. It is evident that most Sri Lankan theatregoers feel fulfilled only if some ‘occasion to laugh’ has been created. We, as a people seem to be getting addicted to a need for laughs.
However, as I have no doubt many will agree that every laugh cannot be morally healthy. There is I believe, something that can be called ‘healthy humour’ as well as its opposite. It is in this context that I say that the ‘cyber communication’ (photograph with Sinhala text) critiqued in this article, denotes an instance of unhealthy humour. An image of a child is being mocked.
The looks of a child, who is unlikely to have had any choice in the style of haircut she was given, is being laughed at and made a subject for ‘humour’. In an era where we supposedly strive for human dignity and people’s empowerment, the physical appearance/look of a child is made an online subject for a ‘hearty laugh’. Assessing the merits of this intended ‘humour’ is over to you, dear reader. I rest my case.