Memes are Saving the World in the Age of COVID-19

The Internet was invented in 1983. Since then, it has evolved into one of the most complex technological innovations of all time. Layers upon layers of webpages, search engines, and linkages make up a dense network of never-ending content. And among that content, comedians take form in a way we could have never imagined. 

Comedians in the shape of teenagers with a bit too much time on their hands, middle schoolers whose immaturity is refreshing, millennial gamers who desperately wish to make their online fantasy world a reality, and health care professionals who want to make sure everyone is safe.

These are our Internet comedians. And they are currently saving the world. 

Person holding game controller

In the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Internet users are thriving online. They are creating a safe space that takes society’s fear and turns it into humor. While people around the world are asked by authorities to stay at home, the Internet has become an even more vibrant and diverse community than usual. And it may be our only hope. 

At a time when the media has focused on broadcasting the disastrous economic and political impacts of the pandemic, Internet memes and viral videos are bringing hope to a discouraged community. While everyone is stuck inside, the Internet is our way of staying sane. 

Viral memes have mocked the pandemic, not to make light of a serious situation but rather to use comedy as a way of coping with our fear. Some make fun of the ways people improperly use personal protective equipment, like eating Cheetos while wearing gloves or making protective face masks out of scuba equipment. Others play at the idea that this pandemic is the beginning of the apocalypse and a year from now our society will resemble that of Netflix Original series Daybreak

Tik Tok has exploded over the past few weeks. One amazing way Tik Tok videos are being used is by health care professionals to educate people on the proper ways of staying safe during the pandemic. Doctors dance to popular songs and remind viewers to follow the six-feet-away rule. Nurses rap the correct glove and mask etiquette. Different chants are used to time hand-washing, and even the University of Iowa fight song has been featured. If there's one thing health professionals and public health experts can entirely agree upon, it’s that the public is not prepared to combat this virus alone. We need the support of the health community, we need to be educated, and we need to learn in a way that is engaging.  person washing handsYouTuber Lucia Keskin, also known as Chi with A C, has become a viral superstar with her hilarious sketches that employ COVID-19. She is a talented impersonator and has previously made parody videos of TV show Friends and reality show Love Island. One of her more recent videos parodies Sex Education and is called “Self Isolation Education.” In the video, Keskin draws parallels between Sex Education and social distancing strategies. (I highly recommend checking out her YouTube channel if you take a mental health break and could use a few laughs).

This is not the first time the Internet has used comedy as a coping mechanism. Even before COVID-19 became a global pandemic and countries locked their citizens inside and shut down borders, 2020 was a tough year. An amazing characteristic of the Internet is to categorize time periods.

The chronology of 2020 began with viral memes about the potential of World War III. Rising tensions between the United States and Iran occurred after Trump discovered the State’s missile supply like a toddler discovering fireworks. What a way to start. Mass online chaos ensued as users joked about moving to Canada and faking disabilities to avoid the draft. Tik Tok videos poked fun at the ‘perks’ of being drafted, including traveling and skipping school. And Twitter had a field day with #WWIII. 

Kobe Bryant jerseyThen, Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others died in a helicopter crash. The Lakers superstar – and basketball legend - was mourned by fans nationwide. Even during this tragic time, the Internet community rose united and memorialized Kobe and his daughter. Fans joked lightheartedly on Twitter that saying “Kobe!” as you throw something would carry on his legacy. One particular post went so far as to say that kids wouldn’t even know the meaning behind the word, just that it’s what you’re supposed to say as you shoot a basket.

The Internet is a controversial innovation. Some say it's turning kids into brainless zombies who watch TV at all hours of the day. Others counter that without the Internet, many other innovations wouldn't have been possible. No matter what you think, there is no way to argue that the Internet has had an overwhelming impact on society that has changed the way society functions. People from around the world can talk to each other in an instant. A whole database of historical and scientific journals are at our fingertips. And in a time like this, the Internet is our best friend. 

Perhaps the most amazing characteristic of the Internet is its ability to connect people without them being physically present. Social distancing doesn't have to mean being alone. Your best friend is a FaceTime call away. Your yoga routine is a video on YouTube. And your community is right there with you, online. So while you sit behind your screen and read this article and then turn back to your online classes and online social media feeds, acknowledge this: without the Internet, we'd be hopelessly unhinged.