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The memeification of a global crisis

By Grace Edward

With memes flooding our social media feeds regarding current serious issues, we can’t help but wonder what the psychological impact will be of making light of serious matters.

In the modern world it is nearly impossible to avoid social media, and with the globalisation of posting, sharing, commenting and liking comes the need to become “viral” or popular. To stand out in such a colossal community, people need to shock or surprise their online audience, and this is mainly done through the phenomenon of memes – short, snappy jokes or pictures that are often about politicians and current events. These memes tend to make jokes or humour out of serious events, such as the recent Ukraine crisis. 

When something serious happens, like the invasion of Ukraine, online reactions can be divided, similarly to how people cope differently with tragedy in the non-online world. Some people ignore the crisis, others will be blunt and post to raise awareness. In some cases, though, some will respond with humour by making humorous posts online. To what extent can light humour on the war in Ukraine be seen as inappropriate? If people learn to laugh at life-taking global events, how will problems ever be solved? Where did this need to make jokes about people dying come from?

“If people learn to laugh at life-taking global events, how will problems ever be solved?”

Perhaps it is because our generation is more connected than ever before. There is no escaping the trauma of modern life. The large amount of exposure to dark and terrifying global issues has a deep and permanent effect on our mental health. The MHFA England states that 792 million people are affected by mental health issues worldwide – that is higher than any other generation. With psychological instability interrupting all of our individual lives, it is hard to fully grasp other countries’ issues. Moreover, focussing on the severity of global issues such as the war in Ukraine could worsen such mental health issues such as anxiety. Hence, people prefer to look towards humour to help uplift or ignore the daily blights of their own life and the horrible things happening in the world around them. 

Memes on such global catastrophes have both beneficial and detrimental impacts. Memes are beneficial as they can raise awareness, as seen with the war in Ukraine – most of the western world is siding with Ukraine. This means most of the memes seen online are of Putin or Russia, creating the image of Russia as a laughable country. The fact that memes are short, blunt, and often relatable means that people are more likely to remember them. Therefore, memes are programming us through daily updates of the war to criticise Putin and respect Ukraine. 

The negative of this humour is that we are also programmed not to take people like Putin seriously, even though he has power over the nation that has the highest number of nuclear weapons in the world. Instead of worrying about the immediate global threat he poses, we choose to make fun of and laugh at his appearance. Humour creates the idea that you don’t need to worry, you don’t need to take these people seriously, with the consequence being that we lower our guard. After hearing of the invasion, our own defence minister for the UK stated that Putin had “gone full tonto”, with tonto being quaint British slang for someone who is idiotic or foolish.

Our own minister for defence does not take Putin seriously, which I attribute to the way that our culture continues to make jokes about everything. If politicians can’t take global issues seriously, then we will be unprepared for the next global crisis. Memes have the benefit of widening awareness but at the cost of people shrugging off serious threats. Yes, we have a lot more tragedy in our world than in the past years – bigger, scarier global events such as climate crisis, a global pandemic and the threat of world wars. 

Especially when media companies such as Facebook profit off the polarisation of people, the spreading of memes and global news detaches people from political issues. We begin to deny their existence, which only leads to ignorance. 


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