Have No Fear, Memes are Here

What’s the best way to deal with impending doom? Why, by laughing, of course. The internet has a funny way of, well, making everything funny. In response to the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s Quds Force commander, social media began a new trend of memes: World War III style.

Though it’s most likely that worries over an inevitable draft are unfounded, the internet has never let that stop it before. Soon enough, jokes about being sent off to war and the world ending infiltrated every social media platform.

Twitter user @mostlywashedup tweeted on Jan. 3, “I laughed at the world war 3 memes until I realized I’m registered for the draft because of the FAFSA.”

Whenever a meme is born, it usually has an almost instantaneous effect, passing information and ideas in an entertaining and easy format in what we now consider part of our culture. Whether you prefer Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, there’s no escape from memes. 

So why do we joke about horrible things?

Dr. Colin Smith, an assistant professor at the University of Florida’s Department of Psychology, said it involves the rise of the Internet and cable television.

“It gives you a sense of control over the situation,” he said. “It’s a distancing tactic. It’s a way to say, ‘Haha, not me.’”

He also talked about the Benign Violation Theory, in which there is controversy about what is “normal” to joke about.

“Where's the line? There's the argument of too soon, too big, too important, affects too many people to make fun of,” Smith said. “Basically, humor is a way to enjoy something terrible, safely.”

This is not the first instance of tragedies or publicized deaths have been made light of through the use of edgy humor. For example, a lot of people on the internet make offensive jokes and memes about the Holocaust. Another instance is that of Harambe, the gorilla that was killed by a Cincinnati Zoo worker in May 2016, and still can be found circulating the internet to this day. 

Essentially, it’s easier to laugh than to cry. It’s also easier to cope with the fear of wartime when the internet can relate to your feelings. Humor as a coping mechanism has also shown to relieve tension through self-awareness and acceptance.

So, does this mean memes are… bad?

“Anything that conveys information can be used for good or bad. In a sense, it's a cultural language... we share a piece of information,” Smith said. “But it can be done at the expense of others very quickly.”

Considering the United States would probably not get the worst of a contemporary world war, it’s seemingly easy to joke about. Isolation from the other countries involved is where the problem arises. Despite us finding relief through dismissive comedy, it can come across as privileged and insensitive to other parties that would be affected by such a war.

Technology’s desensitizing effect has led to an everchanging ceiling of shock value.