№ 6. Stupid Questions, 73 Questions, and A Social Justification of the Mema

(On weekends, a smorgasbord of discoveries made both offline and online will be featured here, to celebrate how the Internet is full of oddities and ideas from the real world.)


1. Beren and Lúthien (2017)

38b71681-78b2-4aa9-9f42-a890c8aeb549A passage in the appendix of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Return of the King reads — “There were three unions of the Eldar and the Edain: Lúthien and Beren; Idril and Tuor; Arwen and Aragorn.” The story of the first pair has already been told in an entire chapter of The Silmarillion, is retold by Aragorn to the hobbits in The Fellowship of the Ring, and remains to this day a well-loved story from the First Age of Middle-Earth.

In 2017, a complete century after it was first penned, the tale of Beren and Lúthien is set to be published as a stand-alone book. To be sure, there is a fair number of posthumous Tolkien publications, most of which have been made possible by his son and editor Christopher Tolkien.

However, in this age of unrestrained, sometimes unnecessary sequels/prequels, it is all too easy to construe this latest book as a means of milking the franchise. Then again, given the sheer extent of world-building the elder Tolkien has achieved, it would only make sense for genuine enthusiasts to celebrate it. The less interested can hop on or hop off the bandwagon as they please.

2. M.C. Escher

The recent Marvel Comics film adaptation Doctor Strange (2016) has repeatedly been reviewed as reminiscent of the art of M.C. Escher. Most people will likely have seen the works of this Dutch graphic artist someplace before, though they might not have known his name. Maurits Cornelis Escher was best known for woodcuts, lithographs, and sketches that defied technique and perspective. Even today, his works are celebrated as having blended together artistic aspects that are normally distinct and separate: e.g. foreground and background, two-dimensional flatness and three-dimensional volume, and so on.

Of course, there is more to Escher’s art than mere optical illusion, as some critics would be wont to opine. As The Guardian has declared, “Escher’s greatest pictures are not simply geometric exercises; they marry formal astonishment with a vivid and idiosyncratic vision.”

3. This Tweet

Not a lot of people with access to the Internet today have always relied on the Internet for answers. Before Google and the rise of the millennials, it was the custom to either ask the questions of someone else (an adult if you were a kid), or find the information in a book. If books were the chosen source, you could locate books via the card catalog in a public library, or — in this case — phone the librarian to have them scour the catalog for you.

While most people nowadays would gripe about the inconvenient, gadget-free nature of such quests for answers, there is some soothing to be gleaned from tangible paper and a real telephone conversation partner.

Also, while the questions posed to the librarians are dubbed stupid questions, let it be said that stupidity is relative. Asking what kind of apple Eve ate betrays an ignorance that we easily laugh at because it is inexcusable in our time. Along that thinking, however, we of the modern age have therefore no excuse for ignorance, not when the means to make informed opinions are at our fingertips.

4. Vogue’s ‛73 Questions’

Vogue Magazine describes this online video series as a way “to see what [their favorite personalities] like, what they hate, and most importantly – what they know.” That last bit sounds ominous, but 21 episodes in and the 73 Questions segment has been making good on its promise to prise personal information from its celebrity guests. It is reminiscent of the slam books of 90’s kids, as well as the Proust Questionnaire tradition of Vanity Fair, but with more unconventional gimmicks.

The whole series makes for a decent pastime for anyone with extra time on their hands and a high tolerance for celebrities. On the other hand, given the professions of most of the interviewees, it is easy for non-enthusiasts to bash the gimmick as scripted and artificial. (On a third hand, it probably is to an extent.) Still, entertainment is entertainment to the right people; non-enthusiasts are non-enthusiasts for a reason; and again, haters are not required to play the videos.

5. Mema

The Filipino language is abundant in slang, to say the least — but anyone growing up outside of Luzon, if left untrained, will find themselves grasping at colloquialisms should these be hurled at them. The term mema, for instance, has been around for over a decade, and yet its usage has only recently been revived on social media. It is in fact a contraction of the phrase ‘may masabi,’ which means to say something for the mere sake of having something to say.

Because of technological advancements, the word has updated to also mean ‘may ma-post,’ or to post online for the sake of posting. With more and more sensitive topics erupting all over the Internet these days, the mema has become synonymous to the troll that comments with no genuine concern for substance. Then when these people are called out, their main defense is that they are entitled to an opinion.

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A mema is generally harmless, as is most anyone with a social media account. If he or she insists on engaging in shallow topics all the time, then all other people can do is throw meaningful pieces of information their way in the hopes of a metanoia. Of course, a mema that is immoveable on the wrong side of a moral issue requires another course of action altogether. To paraphrase a dialogue between Stephen Strange and the Ancient One in the latest Marvel movie: Not all questions have to be answered; not everything has to make sense. Not all things have to be controlled. People change in the best possible way at their own pace, and rarely ever at the behest of others.

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