In September 2019, BITS Pilani’s Goa campus was abuzz with the opening of a Subway sandwich store. It never happened; a non-event that was mocked on the Instagram account Out of Context BITS Goa (@outofcontextbits), which carried a poster of the proposed opening recently. “Top 10 Epic fails in anime history,” commented one user.
Run by a bunch of 22-year-old BITS Goa alumni, this Instagram account, with 3,000 followers, has 230 such posts that either strike a chord or hit a raw nerve with the students. “In our final year,we got motivated by various ‘no context’ pages on Twitter, especially those that seemed funny to us, to create one for our college,” says one of the co-creators of the account who prefers to stay anonymous.
If you’re an active social media user, chances are you would have interacted with one or more such accounts without realising that they are a part of the ‘no context’ internet subculture
In the last 18 months, hundreds of ‘no context’ accounts dedicated to popular dramas and pop culture icons have mushroomed around the world, occupying a unique place at the intersection of online fandom, satire and current affairs.
The ongoing pandemic may have inadvertently fuelled this rise with lockdown-bound people revisiting comfort shows during a difficult time. “These posts make me smile or chuckle, even if for a brief moment while scrolling,” says Apeksha (@apeksha02), who follows a bunch of ‘no context’ accounts. She prefers to call them her “timeline palate cleanser”.
An internet-meme database, Know Your Meme, defines ‘No context’ or ‘Out of context’ accounts as the “single-topic social media pages, blogs, and accounts devoted to posting quotes and screenshots from pieces of popular media without the necessary clips to help the quote make sense, resulting in a phrase or moment the reader can interpret in ways not intended by the media.”
A quick search on Twitter reveals multiple No context/Out of context India accounts started recently within months of each other. These contain pictures, gifs and videos that evoke the “It happens only in India” sentiment.
Most ‘no context’ accounts are made by fans of globally popular shows past and present, with the express intent of finding and engaging with other fans of the show in order to relish the good parts and keep them alive in everyone’s memory. The majority does not monetise the content on these accounts despite their large follower count. A lot of the entries end up being crowd-sourced as fans flood their messages tab with suggestions. Twitter is where they get the most engagement through retweets and quote tweets as compared to other popular habitats for such accounts, like Reddit, Tumblr and Instagram.
The posts usually contain screengrabs with subtitles acting as captions that seem funnier when placed out of context. If you look closely, though, these posts are rather contextual commentaries on major global events.
Last month, when Twitter was abuzz with a sudden change in font, ET, a 23-year-old US-based creator of No Context Schitt’s Creek (@nocontxtSC) tweeted to 65,000 followers a screenshot from the multiple Emmy-award-winning Canadian show, where one of the main characters, Alexis Rose, is complaining about the font in her inimitable style.
Shortly after Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry in March, Anna Golez, creator of No Context Succession (@nocontextroyco) posted a screenshot of Tom Wambsgans, a supporting character on the American drama, saying “What a weird family”. The tweet reached more than 122,000 followers and fetched over 22,000 likes.
Finding a screengrab from popular fictional content that can be relevant to something in the current socio-political-cultural context is “my favourite genre of comedy,” says Shreemi Verma, a Mumbai-based content creator who often finds herself saving screenshots from No Context Fleabag (@nocontextpwb) for future use. “I like how these accounts adapt to trending content formats and even create intrigue for shows you may not have watched.”
Verma watched Parks and Recreation, an American political satire show (which was on air between 2009 and 2015) a few months ago. A tweet on ballot counting from the show’s ‘no context’ account piqued her curiosity as it felt eerily similar to the vote-counting drama that unspooled over the course of the recently concluded US Presidential elections.
While ‘no context’ pages originated in the US back in 2010, the current trend has people from all around the world spearheading it. Golez, who runs No Context Succession since July 2019, is based in the Philippines. In February, an East African user rebranded their Twitter account to Out Of Context Somali (@NoContextSomali) and has gained close to 8,000 followers since. “I wanted to share funny content that Somali people can relate to,” says the creator, who prefers to stay anonymous.
Out Of Context Derry Girls (@oocderrygirls), an account with more than 30,000 followers dedicated to the British show set in Northern Ireland of the 1990s, was set up by 18-year-old Isabel from Spain two years ago. “I watched the show on a friend’s recommendation that summer and set up the account so that it doesn’t fade into oblivion,” says Isabel.
Besides being funny, the subtly contextual posts on these accounts are also “a nice reminder of the fact that there are actual people running these accounts, not just algorithms posting a screenshot at a particular time... there are real people who put some thought into what’s being posted,” says Golez, 31.
Meanwhile, in Mumbai, Verma is hoping to see more Indian dramas taking over the ‘no context’ territory now that most of them have been digitized and subtitled for streaming platforms. “Imagine if we post screengrabs from serials like Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and Kasautii Zindagii Kay, it’ll be a blast. Maybe I’ll start it.”