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Jakarta Post

When hammer-and-sickle symbol becomes funny memes


    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, May 13, 2016   /  03:02 pm
When hammer-and-sickle symbol becomes funny memes A parodied picture of a communist symbol on a red T-shirt with a picture of a bird perched on a sickle (“Circumcision Doctor”) posted by Dewan Kesepian Jakarta Perjuangan on its Facebook fan page. (Courtesy of Dewan Kesepian Jakarta Perjuangan/-)

Logos bearing the hammer and sickle, recognized as a communist symbol worldwide, have suddenly become popular in Indonesia. Most of the logos have been used in jokes spread through various memes on social media.

Almost a century ago, leftist duo Vladimir Lenin and Anatoly Lunacharsky held a competition to create the first state emblem of the Soviet Union. Evgeny Ivanovich Kamzolkin won with his design of a hammer and a sickle, which represented the worker-peasant alliance of the socialist movement.

The now-defunct Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) used a similar but simpler logo, until the party was decimated by the military in 1965, marked by the purge of party members, their relatives and sympathizers nationwide.

However, recently the fear of communism has suddenly arisen, especially in the wake of the government’s promise to resolve past human rights cases, including the 1965 mass killings.

Discussions on the 1965 tragedy have been disbanded, while books and T-shirts bearing the hammer and sickle logo or any related to any leftist movement have been seized.

Dewan Kesepian Jakarta Perjuangan, or the Jakarta Lonely Council of Struggle, a Facebook fan page that often parodies the famous quotes of well-known figures, has posted various memes related to the hammer and sickle, which have recently gone viral.

On May 9, it posted a picture of an actual hammer and sickle with a message that read: “Anyone who possesses a hammer and a sickle at home should destroy them lest they be accused of being a PKI member.”

On the same day, the Facebook fan page posted a picture of a message that read “There are lots of hammer-and-sickle pictures on Google. The police should also seize Google!”

A parodied picture of communist symbol in the form of a picture of a razor and a comb crossed with a red background (“Indonesian Smooth Party”).(Courtesy of Dewan Kesepian Jakarta Perjuangan/-)

It seems it just could not stop and went on to post several parodied pictures the day after, from a red T-shirt with a picture of a bird perched on a sickle (“Circumcision Doctor”, with "bird" being slang for penis in Indonesian), a picture of a razor and a comb crossed with a red background (“Indonesian Smooth Party”) and a picture of a computer mouse and a pen crossed with a red background (“Online PKI”).

On May 11, it posted a comic strip with two panels, showing a little girl who was shocked at seeing a sign on a traffic light reading: “Keep going when you are turning left”. She later said, “Latent danger of communism in sight!!!”

Although the tangible impact of the memes in Indonesia remains vague, scholars from RMIT University Vietnam found that memes served as a tool to empower a new form of civil engagement against the government.

Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, proposed the “Cute Cat theory” in 2008, which partly explains the meme phenomenon. Since memes are mostly simple and humorous, they do not look harmful (just like a cute cat). Hence, the government might find it hard to censor the hazard without censoring the cuteness, which could escalate public protests. (vps/bbn)

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