A meme or two, to get you through

April 5, 2020

Social media is flooded with memes and funny videos that say something relevant to us even as they lighten the gravity of the crisis created by the coronavirus pandemic

Canadian interdisciplinary artist, educator, and social work researcher Alison Rowe notes, “In stressful life-and-death situations, individuals use black humor as a way of venting their feelings, eliciting social support through the development of group cohesion, and distancing themselves from a situation, ensuring that they can act effectively.”

She regards it as a way to increase “pain tolerance”.

Using humour as a coping strategy when a crisis hits you is a common socio-psychological phenomenon. Humour was how the soldiers kept their morale up during the World War I and World War II — they famously resorted to practical jokes and gallows humour to keep one another’s spirits soaring. It’s only natural that the outbreak of the coronavirus, which has left most of the world’s population socially distanced and quarantined, should have triggered a barrage of memes and funny videos that serve to lighten the gravity of the situation also.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Reddit are flooded with meme content that is meant to “get you through” these dark times. The jokes range from those about toilet paper shortage across the Western world to going mad with cabin fever, while housebound during the lockdown, and funny skits about the differing ways that various family members are reacting to the Covid-19 associated lifestyle changes that are recommended.

Many memes are focused on the fact that introverted and socially awkward individuals have been prepping for the lockdown their whole lives without knowing it. Users on popular apps like TikTok have invented ‘Corona Handshakes’ which involve zero hand touching; the most famous being a footwork-savvy dance performed by a pair of doctors in America. These memes are instantly relatable and certainly bring cheer in moments of boredom and anxiety.

Some memes mock people for not following social distancing rules, while some get darker to the extent of parodying what it means to actually get the virus. There are also memes that identify the below-par hygiene habits and poor living conditions that the less fortunate commonly have outside of this crisis, and the view that if they have survived those conditions then they can survive anything.

Karachi-based comedian and content creator Shehzad Ghias Shaikh has released a few topical memes since the outbreak, and found it to be a welcome relief for so many of his followers. “The global pandemic has made us quite helpless as the best thing we can do is do literally nothing — stay home,” he said. “As a content creator, I am looking to provide people with some solace and entertainment during this quarantine. If they can forget about this existential dread and anxiety for a few minutes, that’s the best I can hope for.”

Other viral online sensations include videos of ‘influencers’ licking poles on public transport and American basketball player Rudy Gobert touching reporters’ microphones during the press conference announcing he was corona-positive.

Memes are often a polarising tool. While some may criticise them for being insensitive or too dark, for many these are a great means to processing fear. Today, as much of the world’s population suddenly find themselves working from home, and unable to visit friends or family, a lot of them are reporting feelings of anxiety and boredom, an unusual concoction of emotions to begin with. They are using their ability to access smartphones, computers and social media as outlets to stay in touch and to relate to one another through this ‘genre’ of humour.

Social media memes and funny videos lightening the gravity of coronavirus pandemic crisis