Meme culture and sympathy

On Jan. 2, Donald Trump declared Iranian general Qasem Soleimani dead on American orders. A potential war — possibly even a third world war — became a new threat in the present. 

World War III quickly became a hot topic throughout the world. Articles, videos, and media quickly began focusing on the conflict. Social media took the topic by storm, through both information and controversial posts.

World War III was trending on Twitter for roughly a week, but the majority of the tweets were poking fun at a potential war. Memes were spread across platforms under the guise of gallows humor. People claiming to use humor as a coping mechanism joked about acts of wars. Gallows humor continues to fuel memes during times of tragedy. 

There will always be an appeal in gallows humor. Finding laughter in a time of disaster is such a common human response to fear that it feels almost instinctual. But the love for gallows humor is deeper than our inherent nature. It is, above all else, ridiculously edgy. And that’s why it thrives. 

Edgy humor exists because it is edgy. Because it is offensive. Because it is a middle finger in the face of an overly sensitive society. Edgy humor is rebellion for the sake of rebellion. It’s the response of a cynical, jaded teenager who has had enough of the world’s safety nets and bubble wrap. It’s shallow, and that’s why it’s deeper than any innate response. 

Gallows humor is no longer gallows humor, as it is no longer the doomed who are cracking jokes. It is the crowd who, at this point, have nothing to lose. And this shift came sometime around when depression and suicide jokes became more acceptable and commonplace. People falsely believe that gallows humor is for anyone in times of despair, including the crowd. 

Offensive humor distances society from its humanity. It desensitizes people to cruelties committed by every nation and allows these actions to go unchecked. Viewing another group as the punchline to a joke allows violence against the group to thrive.  

None of the people making memes about World War III are going to die because of war anytime soon. The people who are going to die are the military, the Iranians living in a nation turned into a battlefield, and others e caught in the midst of the conflict. This is not our fight. This is not our joke. 

None of the people making memes about World War III are going to die because of war anytime soon.

For many, this fight is more personal. It’s their death sentence. It’s their nightmare turned reality. And we seem to have no shred of sympathy for them. For us, this conflict is nothing more than a viral tweet and a SoundCloud promotion. 

Meme culture has desensitized us to the point where our response to anything is laughter. It isn’t normal. It isn’t funny. It’s sad. Mankind has the ability to convey hundreds of emotions and we chose to ignore sympathy in favor of joy at another’s expense.

Offensive jokes have existed for as long as humanity. The US-Iran conflict is just one of the latest examples. Suicide and school shootings have been the subject of memes in the past few years. Each of these became popular punchlines following disasters. The immediate reaction was to joke about them as if they weren’t real issues killing real people. 

Many emphasize the fact that memes do not cause any physical harm. They are just words, not weapons. But while desensitizing the masses does not directly cause harm, it does affect the public’s view on harm. When the public is used to viewing a group as nothing more than a punchline, it becomes harder for them to sympathize with the following harm. 

Being sympathetic isn’t a crime. It’s an amazing thing that allows us to understand our opposition. It changes minds on all sides. It should be encouraged in society, not destroyed through insensitivity.