Memes represent gateways to humor, toxicity in modern culture

By Nitya Kashyap and Yukari E. Zapata

Photo illustration by Nitya Kashyap and Yukari E. Zapata
MEMES IN MEDIA: Many issuing topics in the news media such as COVID-19 aren’t taken seriously due to joke making and disrespectful remarks.

Memes: one of the most used forms of communication and expression for students, according to The Student View. Memes can be used in many forms of communication as well as an expression of thoughts and emotions. 

For example when friend groups, friends or classmates are talking about a funny situation or a gossip-worthy topic, the best way of communicating may be to send a meme or use a meme-related quote or phrase.

I find memes can be a very good way of spreading news as well as humorously displaying problems that are happening around me. 

I think memes are one of those media trends that will never go away, due to the fact that they are constantly changing as new things are occuring.

Memes are also able to capture things in a more “people-pleasing” manner. No matter the generation or who the person is, memes always find a way to appeal to people. On Instagram, for example, I am constantly looking at memes I relate to as a teen while my mom is scrolling through Facebook, finding memes in Spanish that relate to her.

In fact, I found out about the COVID-19 pandemic through memes. I saw a meme on Instagram about how the government won’t tell us about aliens because “we act a hot mess,” referring to toilet paper flying off the shelves. After seeing the meme, I got more interested what was happening and began to search online about the pandemic. 

A University of Michigan study found that through the use of comedy, many people find it easier to grieve or face a hard challenge.

Although many of my classmates may think I’m “tough,” they honestly have no idea of how scared or upset I might be. I have used humor to get through scary or upsetting times. 

Besides helping spreading awareness about the coronavirus and providing the world with much-needed humor, memes have played a crucial role in connecting individuals as we all shift into lockdown mode.

What differentiates the coronavirus quarantine from other emergency situations is our lack of knowledge about this disease. According to psychologist Bart Andrews , this kind of situation results in a “sense of helplessness in inaction.”

So what do people do? Turn to memes, of course.

I’m sure, like me, you’ve been doing this a lot lately. You find a funny coronavirus meme, send it to your friends, share a good laugh and talk about it for the next hour or so. As part of our “new normal,” sharing memes is one of the best ways to relieve stress, boredom or fear, and to help us continue to form connections from afar.

While memes are a great source of entertainment, they do have their downsides.

Although memes have been an invaluable source of humor for many, they have also been contributing to the spread of misinformation and xenophobia, according to Times Kuwait.

Rumors that consuming gummy vitamins or drinking alcohol can cure COVID-19 are just some of the false claims memes have contributed in spreading. Even I believed the whole “10-second breath test,” which, only after I did a little research, did I find out was actually false.

In such times of uncertainty, misleading advice only makes matters worse and can cause unnecessary panic. To avoid this, psychologist April Foreman suggests that people fact-check content before posting or reposting and be wary of any possible false claims, according to CNet.

Additionally, some memes go as far as purposefully targeting people of certain ethnicities just to generate “funny” content. For example, in February, rapper Kash Doll posted a racist meme on Instagram of several Disney princesses, except for Mulan, wearing face masks.

The meme text read: “Sorry ‘MULAN’ but we never know.” The COVID-19 pandemic is no excuse to post such hurtful content. Especially in times like this, we need to be mindful of others and how they might be affected by these comments.

This xenophobia isn’t just present in the meme world, but also in the real world. Just a few months ago in London, Jonathan Mok, a Singaporean student, suffered an attack of racial abuse, fueled by fear of the coronavirus. One of his attackers reportedly told Mok he didn’t want his coronavirus in his country, according to CNN.

Xenophobic memes only further encourage racist beliefs. Choosing not to spread the hate through the memes we make or share is one way to combat this problem.

In the “meme world,” it is easy to get carried away with what the media is doing and how they are classifying and stereotyping this pandemic. 

While the pandemic itself is truly no laughing matter, there is nothing wrong with turning to memes to help lighten the mood. However, as a society we have to keep in mind that not everyone shares the same tastes in humor, and it is imperative that we remain aware of racial sensitivities.

Now more than ever, we have to empathize with our community and spread as much positivity as we can.