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401: How Dr. Medusa uses humor to tackle injustice

Information Changes Everything: The Podcast. Episode 401: How Dr. Medusa uses humor to tackle injustice. A headshot of Dr. Medusa, comedian and satirist. News and research from the world of information science.

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Information Changes Everything

News and research from the world of information science
Presented by the University of Michigan School of Information (UMSI)

Episode 401: How Dr. Medusa uses humor to tackle injustice 

Released
Tuesday, May 20, 2024

Guests
Dr. Medusa, comedian and satirist

Summary 

In this episode of Information Changes Everything, we hear from prominent content creator Dr. Medusa, who started her journey at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Medusa — whose real name is kept secret for her protection — spoke at the University of Michigan’s Social Media and Society in India symposium, where she shared her inspiration, the challenges she faces, and her creative process in producing satirical videos that comment on India's political landscape. 

Resources and links mentioned

Reach out to us at [email protected].

Timestamps

Intro (00:00)

Information news from UMSI (1:20)

Hear from Dr. Medusa at U-M’s 2023 Social Media and Society in India symposium (2:48)

Next time: Critical librarianship in action with ALA president Emily Drabinski (15:18)

Outro (16:14)

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About us

The “Information Changes Everything” podcast is a service of the University of Michigan School of Information, leaders and best in research and education for applied data science, information analysis, user experience, data analytics, digital curation, libraries, health informatics and the full field of information science. Visit us at si.umich.edu.

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Dr. Medusa (00:00):

I started my whole journey, my satirical journey, or my video journey, my content creation journey three years ago now. Actually, when the pandemic hit, it was almost like there were veils in front of my eyes all this while, and those veils were gradually lifted or actually ripped apart.

Kate Atkins, host (00:20):

That was content creator and comedian Dr. Medusa speaking at UMSI. And this is information changes everything where we put the spotlight on news and research from the world of information science. You're going to hear from experts, students, researchers, and people making a real difference. As always, we're presented by the University of Michigan School of Information, better known around here as UMSI learn more about UMSI at si.umich.edu. Today we'll hear from comedian and satirist, Dr. Medusa, and know that's not her real name, but we'll get to that in a minute. Dr. Medusa was invited to speak at the University of Michigan's 2023 Social Media and Society in India Symposium. The annual event is organized by associate professor of Information, Joyojeet Pal and Co-sponsored by us. Before we jump in, a few other people and projects that you should know about. 

(1:20):

Students can't get enough artificial intelligence. More than 20,000 people have enrolled in online AI classes since 2022, and the university has plans to launch more than 35 short online artificial intelligence courses in 2024. UMSI faculty have been tapped to develop two of them. You'll be able to sign up for them in July. 

UMSI students aren't shying away from problems. As reported on our website, graduate student Christine Carethers is blending her public health background with a newfound passion for health informatics. She's exploring how data and technology can improve healthcare for those who need it most. Like researching drug payment assistance programs and creating data visualizations for Michigan Medicine per others. Envisions of future where better use of information can help change care for the better.

What is information? That's the title of a new video released by Cliff Lampe, professor of Information and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. The goal is to help prospective students wrap their heads around the amazing things that are happening at UMSI. He explains that while information science is really a broad field, it's experiencing a gold rush right now reshaping every industry from entertainment to business, to education to healthcare, even democracy itself. For more on all of these stories, check out si.umich.edu or find the links in our show notes. 

(2:48)

Now let's get back to Dr. Medusa, the University of Michigan's Social Media and Society in India. Syms attendees had the chance to hear from Dr. Medusa Again, she's a teacher, a content creator, and a comedian. And at the start of the pandemic, she began creating satirical videos as a way to comment on India's politics. Her parodies have since gone viral, but it hasn't been all fun and games. She's worked hard to keep her identities secret, to protect herself from potential retaliation. Today we'll share an excerpt of her talk where she discusses the inspiration behind her work, how she deals with trolls and what's next.

Dr. Medusa (03:29):

Every time I'm asked to give a speech, I have always tried to come up with something profound, something very serious, something very intellectual, something that you can take back and wow, what a speech. But I have never been able to do something like that. So I'll start with one of my very favorite poet, recent favorite poets words. His name is Puneet Sharma, and he says, translated, I have a direct relationship with my country. Who the fork are you? Why should I tell you how intense my relationship with my country is? So this is the relationship. The relationship I have with my country is the crux of the work which I do. My father is a writer, and like I said, I have always wanted to say something profound because there's one time when he was giving an interview and he said something so profound that it has actually laid the foundation of what I feel towards my country, my relationship with my country, or my conceptualization of country and motherland.

(04:38):

So my dad told in an interview once that he thinks, because he writes short stories and his short stories are a lot of the time, they're based in his village, in his motherland in where he grew up. So he talks about how he feels like a tortoise, which is carrying their village or carrying its home around with them. That was my first conceptualization of country, of motherland, of home. So I think of my nation as a home, and it's because something is wrong with my home that I am compelled to do what I do. I started my whole journey, my satirical journey or my video journey, my content creation journey three years ago now, actually, when the pandemic hit, when the pandemic hit, it was almost like there were veils in front of my eyes all this while, and those veils were gradually lifted or actually ripped apart because while you're living your life, you have this understanding.

(05:37):

If you are educated, if you are woke, if you know, understand social justice and all those things, you have an understanding. You see it from a distance if you have any kind of privilege, class privilege, class privilege, economic privilege, gender privilege. And I think that distance for me was very pronounced because I understood what social is, why it is necessary. But I had never done anything on my own part. Anything concrete contributes towards shortening the gap or lessening the gap between the haves and the have nots. So when the pandemic hit, I was very comfortably sitting in my house. I had a salary coming in. I had food, I had a car. I had lots of time to make Dalgona coffee and so on and so forth. But I realized, and then lots of time for TV as well. So you are watching tv. You see this holds of people traveling or moving from one part to another because the places which they literally built, they abandoned them.

(06:37):

These places said, we do not have any space for you. We do not have resources for you. And that is something, the movement of this entire jaka or this group of people from one place to another. When that started happening, it was a very rude awakening. Like I said, it was ripping apart of the veil in front of me, and I could see the injustice. I could see the difference in their privilege and mine. And that is what compelled me to start the first saritical series, which I have, I have three. The first one was a neighborhood teacher. And it's because I am a teacher. My mother is a teacher. My mother has taught me everything that I know. So I absolutely honor and love the profession that I am in. And I thought, this is something I know, this is something I know how to do.

(07:27):

And if I am to contribute or if I am to change anything in any way, this is how I know how to do it. Again, this might sound or I would like to put a very honorable view to what I'm doing. But in reality, it comes from an extremely personal, extremely private and extremely selfish place because I know that if I don't do it, I will have a psychological breakdown. I will end up depressed. I will end up as a therapist or because there's so much guilt and there is so much survivors guilt, there is privileged guilt. There is so much of this desire in me to do something and not being able to do it, not being physically able to do it, because like Mina is there, Mina is physically present on the field she's doing for her community is there. He is physically present in the field, reporting from places which are difficult, reporting from places which are dangerous.

(08:24):

So that difference, that understanding that I'm not on the field and I'm very comfortable, that guilt. So my satire comes from a personal, private and selfish place, but yet I want to share it with the world. I think that there is nothing, not a lot very honorable about it because I'm doing it for myself. I want to be stay sane. I want to have keep a grip on what is happening around me and have this idea that many I have also contributed in the creation of an alternative discourse in the presence of a narrative that is so strong, that is so well-funded and so technical in creating and nurturing fear and paid. So at least it's for my sake. But I am very happy and I'm very honored that some of you, all of you, those of you have invited me here. Those of you who listen to me, who are listening to me, who follow me on the social media platforms, I'm very honored that you think that it's a good thing that I'm doing, and you are with me in this journey and you are supporting me in this journey.

(09:34):

I'm very thankful for that. So my first series was the Neighborhood Teacher, and I used language to talk satire. I used language to comment on political events, political issues, policies, et cetera. One of my first thing, one, my first videos, which I made was on coordinating conjunctions. I talked about how coordinating conjunctions are used, and there is an acronym which we use to teach coordinating conjunctions, which is Fan Boys. So fan F for four, A for n, N for nor, B for, but O for O, y for yet, and S for So. So standby. So I talked in that particular video, I talked about how if you ever forget, what are your coordinating conjunctions, just switch on any new channel and look at one of the news anchors who is there in Times Now or stock or any other new channels. Just look at how they are talking about our very honorable prime minister, and you will figure out the, you'll remember, ah, chicha, this is a fanboy.

(10:36):

So okay, fan Boys is the acronym, which I need to remember coordinating conjunctions. So that was picked up and that was very popular. And I thought that, okay, this is maybe something which I can do. And I had fun. That momentary pleasure that it gives you that your work is being recognized, people like it, people are liking and commenting and sharing. That was also, that's like a hit. So that was also there. I'll not lie that I don't like when that happens. When I video does well, I do, but that's not the reason I started and that's not the reason I continued and that's not the reason I will continue. And then a series which I started Wasin is a deadpan delivery of news events, which have happened during the week. And I do that in a sari sense. I use punchlines and I try to make it, in fact, you know what it's like somebody said yesterday, you don't even have to try to write satire.

(11:33):

It just writes itself. You just need to look at your politicians. You need to look at the media and the satire writes itself. I really, sometimes you just have to repeat things which politicians have said, and it becomes comedy. So ash is something which I do on a weekly level, and it's, I think as a linguist, because that's my primary occupation as a linguist. I look at languages all the time. The language of social media, the language we speak with each other, the language we speak with different classes of people. And when all of this was happening in the past two, three, not just the past two years, in the past decade, actually almost a decade now, the way the language of the media has changed, it's so much that instead of their job of delivering information, they are now creating information and creating, first of all, they were creating opinion and now they're creating information.

(12:27):

So when I looked at the media, when I looked at language during this, because when the first series, the neighborhood features series started becoming popular, I decided, okay, now I need to make it more, there needs to be more punching the satire because just having just that one persona was not fitting in with the ideas that has started to come into my head, that it actually started to burst into my head. So I looked at the language and I saw the media and the way they are using language to create opinion, to create information to peddle this information. I realized that it is very important that to have an alternate persona, to show how they are doing it, what exactly is the mechanism behind it by critiquing it in the form of the old way of delivery of news and information in India. So that was why I started the book version.

(13:22):

And I tried to use language to subvert the very language the mainstream media was trying to use. Next, the final part of my talk and the final series, which I have is the NTPC helpline. The NTPC helpline is National Troll Prasheekshan Center. So it's a helpline which trains trolls on how to troll because while I was doing this, while both the series were becoming popular, obviously the trolls arrived, and once the trolls arrived, they had the exact same things on loop. They'd say the exact same things. If you are a woman, they character assassinate you. All of the stuff that will say they will say will be misogynistic. If you are not conventionally beautiful, they'll comment on your face, they'll comment on your features, they'll be racist, they'll be castes and all sorts of things from my surname. You can't really figure out what my caste is.

(14:14):

So of course they decided to be racist because I have Mongoloid features. So I thought, I'm pretty sure that these guys, what they do is they get a script from somewhere and that's what they do. They just copy paste stuff and then they get their payments as members of the troll Army. So I thought, let's pretend that I am the one who's giving them the script and they're the ones who are reading it and they're the ones who are just copying and pasting it. So that became extremely popular because people started resonating with the fact that it's quite possible that this is how it happens. And I have been told a number of times that probably this is exactly how it happens. So all my work, all my videos, the series which I had created, all of them have come from very personal experiences, like I said, and today I'm sharing that with you, and I hope that the personal and private and selfish act, my selfish act, and I thank you for honoring that selfish act, and I hope that I continue. I can continue to be this selfish and keep creating.

Kate Atkins, host (15:18):

You can watch Dr. Medusa's full talk and slides by clicking the link in our show notes. To learn more about upcoming events and conversations like this, visit si.umich.edu and tune in next time to hear from Emily Drabinski, the president of the American Library Association. Drabinski addresses the attacks on libraries and librarians happening across the country.

Emily Drabinski (15:41):

For many of us, I think figuring out who we are, especially as queer people, requires this kind of privacy and is why we go to the library. I keep returning to this study that I read from the human rights campaign, and the study reported that while a majority of trans and gender variant students reported feeling safe in the library, to the tune of 60% every day felt unsafe in their school, more than 90% reported feeling safe in their school library. These books matter. The institution of the library matters. It matters most to our young people, to our most vulnerable.

Kate Atkins, host (16:14):

That's in our next episode. Before we go, did you know that the University of Michigan offers three different master's degrees in information science? And you can start with an undergraduate degree in almost any field. Check out all the possibilities at si.umich.edu. The University of Michigan's School of Information creates and shares knowledge so that people will use information with technology to build a better world. Don't forget to subscribe to information changes everything on your favorite podcasting platform. If you have any questions, comments, or episode ideas, send us an email at [email protected].

Information Changes Everything: The Podcast

Information Changes Everything: The Podcast

News and research from the world of information science, presented by the University of Michigan School of Information.