Memes and the Coronavirus: Humor in Adversity

28 May, 2020
Laughing at memes in the current circumstances isn't an act of frivolity. A sense of humor is more necessary than ever. It relieves stress and also makes us feel more united by identifying with the same situations and common problems. In this article, learn all about memes and the coronavirus.

It seems almost unthinkable that a sense of humor should still exist under the current circumstances. But what would become of human beings without their ability to laugh or make someone smile? We would die of grief, no doubt. Because of this, we’re currently seeing a rather strange and fascinating symbiosis, in which memes and the coronavirus have become a rather strange companion.

In an online and hyper-connected world, these kinds of resources and interactions are relieving many people’s anxiety. They’re a breath of fresh air that we share on our social networks and send via WhatsApp. Is all this perhaps an act of frivolity in the face of everything that’s happening?

The answer is simple: no. We’re not minimizing what’s happening around us. We’re only trying to survive, and humor is an ideal mechanism and more necessary than ever in these circumstances. As long as the humor is respectful, of course, and doesn’t create more pain through insults or false information or ideas.

Let’s delve a little deeper into this subject.

Coronavirus memes.

Memes and the coronavirus: coping with the crisis

A few days ago, Neil Diamond published an alternative version of his super classic song, “Sweet Caroline”. This song, by changing its lyrics to “Wash your hands”, has now gone viral. In a church in Providence, Rhode Island, the parish priest put a big sign in front of the door that says “I hadn’t planned to give up so much during Lent”.

Every time we open social networks, we find things that amuse us. Amidst the bad news and heartbreaking images, there are little touches of humor. We shouldn’t feel bad if we end up laughing because laughter can heal. Laughter and a sense of humor are mechanisms to bring well-being to our brain.

We’re now getting used to memes and the coronavirus going hand in hand. What we certainly aren’t used to are the effects of the pandemic – the numbers infected, the human losses, and the anguish.

In times when our minds are suspended in a state of permanent uncertainty, humor can act as an anchor and fleeting way of reducing tensions and fears. It doesn’t last long but it’s necessary.

Humor in adversity: a common resource

Although the phenomenon of memes and coronavirus is something that’s only just started to appear, we’ve already experienced similar situations in the past.

In World War I and II, people painted ironic statements and drawings on the walls about the situation and, in particular, used them to mock the enemy. The comic strips in the newspapers in those days were equivalent to our memes today.

Their purpose wasn’t to underestimate the situation at all. The humor was a lifeboat and something that motivated every soldier and every person who was trying to survive. Beyond what we would have thought, people are “designed” to make use of a sense of humor even in the most difficult circumstances.

Dr. Anne Ghilmette of Brock University in Canada researched this phenomenon. She showed how laughter, jokes, and humor conveyed on television, social networks, or among friends serve as a coping mechanism. They help reduce stress, anxiety, and fear and act as a necessary resource in adverse conditions like the present one.

A coronavirus meme.

Memes and the coronavirus: when ingenuity acts for the common good

The phenomenon of memes and the coronavirus has more benefits than the simple (and necessary) fact that they make us laugh. One reason why they make us feel good is because, in a way, we all see ourselves in those images and words.

Memes have power because they capture our attention in a few seconds and we interpret them even quicker. What they show and transmit is relevant to us because we feel like we’re part of the situation they represent.

Knowing that we’re all going through the same situation leads to relief and well-being. We’ve all seen people carrying towers of toilet paper in the supermarkets. And we all go out to do our shopping with an unusual sense of heroism and responsibility.

Some are more fearful of getting infected and others less. However, masks are now an object of value and desire – a necessary accessory we’d never have wanted to include in our daily lives.

In moments of desperation, humor gives us balance and also unites us. Therefore, as long as these memes are respectful and don’t carry false or offensive information, they’re most welcome. They’re strokes of ingenuity that are well worth sharing.

  • Guilmette, A. M. (2008). Review of The psychology of humor: An integrative approach. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne49(3), 267–268. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0012776