Meme Culture: Coping Mechanism or Desensitization?

The 2010s saw the rise of the most surviving trend of the millennium — the meme.Although its existence could be traced back to as early as 79 AD, Pompeii; the popularization of the Internet and social media in the late 2000s and 2010s helped to establish the meme as one of the most enjoyable and inescapable things in global Internet culture.

From “Sharkiesha” to “Woman shouting at cat”, memes have invaded our daily lives whether for pain or pleasure.

Largely perpetuated by Gen-Z and younger millennials, memes have the distinct ability to be born from anything; from a funny interaction between two people and even from, more questionably, global catastrophes.

The latter is evident in the Internet's most recent meme — the prospect of a third World War.

There is one true thing about memes that is simultaneously their greatest pro and con: they have revealed our ability to laugh about absolutely anything.

The question now is whether that should be a concern.

Laughter is, of course, a recognized coping mechanism. We're all familiar with the adage, “laughter is the best medicine” and that's true— for the most part.

Finding humour in tense situations has proven to be a form of stress relief for most people. Laughing at otherwise difficult circumstances, in some cases, can subtract the stressors and open up space for mental repose.

The easiest way for most people to handle their anxieties and discomforts is by making light of their situations. This human trait is perhaps what prompted the trend of turning notably catastrophic events into light-hearted Internet memes.

Almost every global catastrophe in the last decade was accompanied by a flurry of Internet posts and Tweets with the intent of de-escalating the tension brought on by these events. With almost everyone with Internet access joining in on the 'fun'.

The defense for these sort of jokes has always been, “It's their (the Internet's) way of coping”. Unfortunately, when we spend all our energy laughing at everything, we sometimes lose sight of how serious the situation at hand is— and even how our jokes may be hurtful to others.

My goal here is not to be a killjoy or step on anyone's neck for having some fun, but simply to remind everyone that there exists a line between funny and too far.

Oftentimes, we let ourselves get carried away and ignore the magnitude of the situation completely, which has dire effects on the people who are directly affected by what is happening. Our laughter becomes a gross, obnoxious reminder in the ears of those who would rather forget.

Not everything should be greeted with a humorous attitude, and it can be easy to forget to consider the realities of the people involved in the subject of our memeing.

As much as laughter helps us to ignore it, reality still exists and our words and actions still carry consequences — even on the Internet.

Internet culture has, in some ways, allowed us to become desensitized to things that require sensitivity and action, rather than mockery and parody.

While memes can be fun, and at times a great coping mechanism when we're jointly affected by the same thing— we must be careful not to play ignorant to the exact magnitude of the state of affairs and at least try to maintain a sense of compassion for those directly involved.

--Rolando Alberts



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