Zoning in: Meme culture

Illustration by Nora Talbott

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Our nation displays no shortage of conflicts, whether they’re domestic or international. Awareness of these issues should burden those who are knowledgeable, even in the slightest. Gen Z’ers, however, ignore the socially acceptable responses – you know, panic or fright – and instead choose to laugh. Widespread desperation for online validation, whether it takes the form of likes, comments or reposts, has desensitized our generation’s responses to devastating occurrences.

The military draft jokes that spoiled Twitter like bird poop on a public bench frustrated me to no avail. It’s not that I expected @All_Cake88 to draft a proposal for a peace treaty, but immediately reacting to violent foreign affairs with a meme captioned, “Me dodging Iran’s bullets” launches immaturity to another realm. Even Buzzfeed, a rather informal news source, was taken aback, titling an article, “The Threat Of World War III Has Become A Meme And No One Knows How To Feel About It.”

Professional comedians embody the theory that—on occasion—humor is a useful coping mechanism. Sometimes recognizing the downward spiral that we occupy is overwhelming. The satirical op-eds mocking Donald Trump that saturate the Washington Post will never fail to make me smirk, even if it is a reminder that our country is ruled by a tyrannical imbecile. But completely replacing any morsel of sensitivity with an attempt at mediocre humor is gravely disappointing. Our generation does not use humor to aid those grieving. The “humor” is backed by the selfish desire for a good three seconds of stardom.

A quick disclaimer—the percent of Gen Z’ers who actually post this unfortunate content make up the minority. The issue, in all its glory, is that these memes go viral, becoming celebrities among competing selfies and “Renegade” videos. For anything to go viral, they must have a following. And our generation is that following.

When people learn of news through jokes that strip the situation of its severity, they have no choice but to appreciate the event as one deserving of a laugh. Those exposed to the draft avoidance jokes saw the potential Iranian war as a source of comedy. To the unfortunate victims of this ignorant propaganda: the threat of war is not funny, even if you laughed at the meme.

Tormented by deep reflections of our generation’s distorted emotions, I clicked out of this document and took a scroll through Instagram. One of the first posts I fell upon was a video of a girl swooning over hot murderers from the ‘50s. Pitying the girl for failing to acknowledge the inhumane crimes of her crushes, I dismissed the video. In the next, Kobe Bryant’s death was dramaticized through a TikTok that depicted him serenading his daughter in heaven. The intent in producing this video was not to mourn, but to exploit the death for views.

Our generation is young, but immaturity cannot excuse the widespread neglect of tragedy, conflict and grief. Death, war and a withering constitution do not incite fear, but instead pose as content for viral jokes. With the overuse of electronic devices and platforms with digital friends, our emotional responses have become robotic, devoid of sensitivity and empathy. Engagement with technology will not cease, so we might as well emote more sophistically than our AI counterparts.

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