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By Saniyyah Eman & Ayesha Hanif
It was some unnamed night in the stone age. Earth’s sole human tribe’s most attractive Neanderthal woman had just chosen her mate; a small but quick man with a good wit, a great eye for prey and a greater appreciation for his Neanderthal lady’s many qualities.
With the woman and the lucky suitor out of the picture, all that was left of the tribe around a log fire (discovered courtesy to the Chosen One who had put his brain to good use when the others of his good gender had refused to even acknowledge that organ’s existence) was a band of the rejected men, effectively the first dumpees to roam the planet.
What would they do, all of nature wondered, looking on in awed silence, these creatures of intelligence far superior to any other species that wandered the planet Earth? Would they lay out a working plan on how to be good enough for the next woman who came along? Perhaps invent the wheel to counter the fire discovered by the Chosen One? Mourn the loss of the first woman they had all ever loved?
Pssht. None of that nonsense for these big strong man-lords.
Around the fire, these gentlemen gathered to cackle at bad jokes made at the expense of the stupid life choices made by women so they could feel better about their own rejection. Nature uttered a collective sigh and wondered why the rain of fire that got the dinosaurs could not have a sequel (Rain of fire; the End of bitter incels™) and get these idiots too.
You would think that this story would finish here, that the mindset of those Neanderthals who dealt with affection the way a kindergartner deals with his first crush, would have died out during the evolutionary process. Jaws were formed, however, and feet and hands but the male brain in many of that good gender, we regretfully observe, is still the size of a shrivelled walnut – with all the usefulness of one too.
That is the only explanation we are able to give for the creation of Dankpuna at LUMS
A Facebook group created by some ambitious young LUMS students who walked into one of the most prestigious institutions of the country with the dream of – creating a Facebook group where they could insult their female fellows on-campus specifically and the female gender in general.
The young students’ dream was realized in the shape of this Facebook group and as “dark”, “dank” content was shared into it, it flourished. Its climax saw a good six hundred people reacting to this content on a daily basis.
These ambitious young alpha-males had created this group for a very specific type of humor, which is why the group was cordoned off and only LUMS students, after confirmation, were granted entry. Once you were inside, you were greeted by formulaic memes – generated using regular meme formats; the surprised Pikachu format, the expanding brain format – which contained “humor” which tackled many “diverse” topics; women being likened to prostitutes, feminists being likened to prostitutes, male feminists being likened to predators and general sexual objectification of women (and goats[!]).
Before the group’s grand expose, its content was criticized on the LUMS Discussion Forum (an online Facebook platform for LUMS students) by a male student who had happened upon the content of the group and found it problematic. Not much was done in response.
A few days later, some other students were added to the group by their friends. When they scrolled through the content, they realized the extent of the problem. Screenshots were taken and posted on the LDF on the 6th of April, 2019. People were named and rightfully dragged in the mud over the content of Dankpuna. There were those who tried to defend the clowns behind the group but it would be incorrect and unfair to men to say there were many of those and the ones who tried to justify Dankpuna were put into place pretty quickly.
On the 7th of April, the LUMS Students & Alumni Action Committee (LSAACS) released a statement
In this, they admitted that the group “encouraged sexual misconduct and demean[ed] others with bigoted content, ignorantly claiming it to be free-speech”. The statement also encouraged “individuals who have been affected by the content directly” to “consider filing charges of misconduct”.
However, no action was taken against the people (whose names had at that point been disclosed on the LDF) by the committee. Of course, it ought to be remembered that the committee’s jurisdiction, perhaps, did not extend to physical action against the individuals involved in the making and working of Dankpuna.
On the 8th of April, a group of five female students went to meet the Dean of Student Affairs. Outside the offices sat two hundred female students in their support, rallying together against everything Dankpuna had represented.
Inside the offices, in the representatives’ meeting with the Dean, gender sensitivity trainings were brought up and the five young women emphasized upon the need for a long-term solution that would “create awareness regarding cyber-bullying” and “rehabilitate the offenders”. The goal, the officer was reminded, was to create a united and safe campus.
There are scattered incidents after this meeting with the Dean. News reports that took snippets of the incident out of context, the hacking of a female student’s Facebook account and the posting of graphic pictures in the comments section (of the hacked account) of all posts written in relation with the Dankpuna Expose. The LUMS authorities then took things into their own hands and hallelujah, children, thus endeth all Dankpuna at LUMS.
But you are not free to turn the page just yet, because this Facebook group itself, which managed to garner an adequate social media following, forces us to think about something very important, which is this.
The excuse Dankpuna’s makers had for its creation was of it being a platform for “dark humor” and that’s how some people defended it.
When they were shouted down by calls of this isn’t dark humor, it’s harassment/chauvinism, it confused them because they did not consider themselves harassers or chauvinists. To them, everyone was being over-sensitive about a few jokes because they didn’t understand what dark humor was.
If you are one of those who actually believed these claims regarding Dankpuna’s content, that it was a mere genre of humor for a different audience, then you need to answer a simple question; what is dark humor?
To explain dark humor better, you must first have an understanding of what humor itself is and the best definition of humor comes from the Benign Violation Theory which was published by Caleb Warren and Peter McGraw in the 2010 volume of Psychological Science. The theory builds on the research by Tom Veatch and revolves around the idea that humor is born out of the amalgamation of two parent factors: violation and benignity.
According to this theory, for something to be funny, it has to be violating for the audience.
It can be morally violating (refer to the six-panel comic by J.L. Westover), physically violating (tickling somebody) or even linguistically violating (puns). For something to be funny, it can even threaten your psychological well-being i.e. roasting or sarcasm. Example: “When killing them with kindness doesn’t work, try a hockey stick”.
But is it enough for these things to be violating? According to the behavioral scientists behind this theory, violations are only funny when they are benign – when the threat in them turns out to be empty.
The comic about the father loves his dog more than his child is funny to the reader mainly because of the reader’s relief in the fact that it is neither possible nor true and definitely not something that has happened to either them or anyone they know. Similarly, tickling somebody is funny because it is a physical threat but its source is harmless and trust-worthy (which is why you wouldn’t find a stranger tickling you funny in any way).
The quote “when killing them with kindness […]” is funny to us because of the sheer audacity of it and because we know secretly that it is neither a serious piece of advice and even if it was, nobody would take it. These violations of the reader or the audience are benign and that makes them funny.
Here’s a comic displaying “dark humor”!
McGraw frequently uses another term, Malign Violation, and that is what a joke that is not a joke because of it being threatening or outright insulting or outrageously immoral and disgusting, is called. For example, if you were in the presence of a person who had a hockey stick and a history of erratic behavior and you were alone with them and then, that person quoted “When killing them with kindness […]” at you, you would not laugh except rather nervously (maybe not even that!) and you would definitely find the quote and the incident funny only after you were out of this person’s presence and were feeling safe. The situation, then, would automatically render the joke not only unfunny but downright scary for you.
This, basically, explains all there is to understand about humor. Now, dark humor, on the scale provided to us by the BVT, might range from less benign to extremely less benign, but the trick is for it to remain benign nonetheless. A good example: “You cannot say Hitler was bad through and through. He did kill Hitler after all.” The violation occurs when the comedian suggests Hitler was not bad. The benignity that forces laughter from us occurs when the comedian explains Hitler was not bad because he killed himself thus ridding the world of himself. Why did that joke make you slightly uncomfortable? Because it talked about Hitler not being bad. Reason or no reason, our moral compass does not allow us to consider Hitler not being bad.
Keeping this in view, let us now return to the memes posted in Dankpuna at LUMS.
We are all aware of the violations that occur in every single meme posted in that group and the biggest problem with these violating memes is that they have no benignity and no pretense of it, which is what makes them malicious, chauvinist and generally unfunny. Moreover, when going over these memes, one notices a certain tendency towards exhibitionism as well as the “fantasization” and the justification of rape and harassment. “Women wearing revealing clothes” is the oft-repeated reason given in these “memes” for varying disturbing sexual acts committed by men. “Getting c***t” is why men become feminists and so forth.
The mentality behind these “memes” was the mentality behind the famous “grab them by the p****” joke that Trump was slammed for during his 2016 election campaign. It was also the mentality behind the infamous Warwick group chat in which an alumnus’s son told another student, “sometimes it’s fun to just go wild and rape a hundred girls”. In all of these jokes that these men found funny, there is one consistent similarity. Like Trump, who wanted the men around him to laugh because he had used the word p**** and the Warwick student who was directly instructing his class fellow to rape girls for fun, the men behind these “memes” were actually propagating some really dark themes that they had probably gone over in their alone time, and to mellow out these themes (consciously or unconsciously), they used meme formats.
Just like Trump used the comparatively funny slang to replace the original word because using the original word would have been like calling for rape outright. Just like the Warwick student told his fellow to rape a hundred girls because specifying a number of girls could have incriminated him in a court of law, just like them, these men unsuccessfully tried to save themselves from social, if not legal, incrimination by putting poison into bowls that people had eaten from before and were, therefore, used to seeing; essentially, meme formats.
Does that make these meme formats or the use of the slang term p**** by Trump the benignity that is essential to a joke, according to the BVT?
One begs to differ, for these meme formats and this slang term and the vague number used by the Warwick student were not attempts to mellow their jokes. They were attempts to escape accountability for thoughts and in Trump’s case, actions that were off-putting, incriminating and guilt-inducing.
They tried to normalize the things they wanted to do to women and they wanted to normalize the way they thought about women by using a medium of communication that was normal. But as soon as some mature audiences happened to see this content, they recognized it as abnormal. In addition, I believe that the people behind Dankpuna knew about this abnormality in their content and the fact that they and their memes would not be accepted by normal people, which was why they closed off the group in the first place.
Now that Dankpuna has been closed and LUMS has dealt with those directly responsible for it, what is left is for us to ensure that similar groups in other institutions and across all social media are located and closed down.
Especially that the mentality behind these groups is understood and changed. Fetishes will always be there and negative thoughts will always linger because we are human, but the urge to realize these thoughts and act out these fetishes is what needs to be curbed. For that, we need to look into what the student activists of LUMS have already suggested: gender sensitivity training at every level, especially in schools and colleges. I would also suggest meticulous web filters that can affect the content a user can upload as soon as it is uploaded, especially in term of instant removal if more than two filters apply to it. Of course, this solution is something that is in the hands of the respective app being used and these web filters are not difficult because they are found plenty on Tumblr and quite a bit on Twitter too.
Everything is, I suppose, in the hands of others but what is in our hands is the ability to change the mindset of the people around us. The girls over at LUMS are banding together to do their part. I think it’s about time all of us at other universities start digging up Dankpunas at our universities instead of shouting down those who talk about such things and thus, do our parts.
Have something to add to this? Let us know in the comments below!