Humans of New York parody pages are using satire to make a not-so-subtle point

Scroll through Facebook or Instagram on any given day, and a post by Humans of New York is bound to be on your feed. The raw, emotional and personal nature of stories brought to the fore by founder Brandon Stanton urges social media users to widely share and comment on the posts of this page. Whether the story is a sad or happy one, it manages to connect a chord with millions of people. The success of Humans of New York (HONY) has prompted the birth of other pages in cities across the world, such as Mumbai, Berlin, Prague and Sydney.

But another consequence is the rise of pages that parody HONY and its style. From poking fun at millenials (Millenials of New York) and their ways of thinking, to imbibing inanimate objects with humourous life stories (Non Humans of Bombay), these pages use the same technique of combining photographs with personal quotes, albeit for satire. In this conversation, three such pages speak to Firstpost about what makes HONY click and why they decided to parody it.

Facebook screngrab

Facebook screngrab

Goats of Bangladesh is dedicated to the cause of giving a fictional voice to goats who express their emotions about various subjects. The page began when founder Sadman Sakib Rahman decided to take pictures of goats on Eid-Ul-Azha. "He noticed that the facial expressions of these animals were quite human-like. Then, he decided to start posting photos with stories he made up about the goats, and afterwards, we carried on making them," explains Kadin Ehsan Imdad, one of the admins of the page. The other admins are Sadman Sakib Rahman and Ehtesham Haider; all of them are between the ages of 19 and 20.

The admins either look at a certain picture of a goat and a quote pops into their head, or they think of something clever a goat would say and then find a picture to go with it. "Just like every human has a story, every goat has one too. Our posts put life and meaning into a goat with some lines that we made up to go with the picture. Sometimes, it almost seems like the goat is actually thinking that, and would say it if it could speak to us," Kadin says.

Facebook screngrab

Facebook screngrab

They define their style as being light-hearted and funny, with the occasional deep sentiment or philosophical meditation. They say that they like to keep things happy, because their followers think of their page as a positive, uplifting space. "We also address the hypocrisy of people and the overall situation of the world. Sometimes, we all wish we could do it like the goats do," Kadin laments. If they find it necessary, they also comment on current affairs and politics. "However, we try to be very careful, because, of course, it isn't a safe thing to delve into," he adds.

The admin of Humans of Hindutva always wanted to create a page that satirised current affairs. One day, when he came home after having an argument with a nationalist friend, something forced him to act on the idea instead of sitting on it. As its name suggests, it is a satirical take on people who believe in the Hindutva ideology. Also featured in the posts are right-wing politicians and celebrities. "I went with the name because, despite being a Hindu, I’m disgusted with the saffron brigade and the way they are trying to spread their regressive ideas through communal and religious propaganda," he explains.

The says that the photo-and-text combo in HONY was quite earnest and it worked for Brandon Stanton, but he aims to turn that earnestness on its head. "With HONY, your instinct is to trust the content because you’ve been told that it is based on real people. At HOH, your instinct should be to not trust anything because it’s a parody (and a bad one at that). And yet, people fall for my most over-the-top posts," says the admin.

Facebook screengrab

Facebook screengrab

He says that if a certain subject in the newspapers lends itself to humour or if it is too important to ignore, he addresses it in a post. He creates the posts in his free time and spends roughly five to ten minutes on each; this is why he finds it funny when trolls and haters ask him to "Get a life."

HoH was started not to sermonise, but so that the admin could make himself laugh. "If some of the posts seem in poor taste, then it’s because the retrograde ideas that those posts ridicule are in poor taste to begin with. Besides, if you’re more offended with an obvious joke on casteism than you are with actual casteism, then you need to set your priorities straight," he asserts.

Facebook screengrab

Facebook screengrab

Jeremy Kaplowitz has been a stand-up comedian for about five years, and he always found the Lizard People Conspiracy Theory (the belief that people who are successful or in positions of power are actually reptiles who wish to enslave humans) hilarious. He made the Lizard People of New York page three years ago to make his friends in comedy laugh; the page kept growing, and he continued making posts.

Facebook screengrab

Facebook screengrab

Lizard People of New York takes pictures from the Humans of New York page and uses dark and silly absurdism to create satiricial stories around the people featured in the posts. He also jokes about celebrities who are in the news or that he finds interesting. He adds that sometimes, he does make a point about society or politics, but that is always second to the main objective, which is to make people laugh.

Facebook screengrab

Facebook screengrab

The admins of all three parody pages praise HONY and laud Stanton for his effort. HoH says that it allows us to momentarily step into the shoes of strangers and hear their stories, which are often poignant. Still HoH does not trust everything posted by it. "It’s good at what it does, but some of the stories seem too well articulated to be coming out of a stranger’s mouth," Kapowitz says that the project could be a little more self-aware.

"It has made the concept of personal histories more popular and this was definitely required in an increasingly digital society where we are looking past each other more than ever before," HoH says. Kadin echoes this sentiment, and says that this story-telling style is successful because it allows readers to look at a person, read their stories and feel differently about them after knowing what they have to say. "Personal stories have always been popular and will always be popular because we all want to share a piece of ourselves and connect with others based on that," opines Jeremy.

Because these pages make use of satire and comedy, they find themselves at the receiving end of hate and trolls. "Trolls are perhaps the best thing about starting a parody page," says the admin of Humans of Hindutva, who was recently blocked from posting for three days by Facebook. He says that initially, he would engage with each commenter, which was manageable. But now that the number of people responding to his posts runs in thousands, he put his hands up. He makes it a point to delete those comments which are racially abuse or personal attacks. Several people have accused him of being on the opposition's payroll, and he has also received death threats.

Goats of Bangladesh has a slightly different response to the problem of trolls. On rare occasions, some people do take offence to their posts. "A few times, we chose to remove those posts to avoid confrontation all the same. We don't like to keep a popular post with controversy. Trolls are all around our page, and there comes a point you just gotta take the hit. After all, they're the ones getting heated over a page about goats," Kadin says.


Published Date: Jun 04, 2017 08:50 am | Updated Date: Jun 04, 2017 08:50 am


Also See