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June 5, 2018 | by  | in Features |
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Memes Are No Joke

Why am I petrified at the outset of this article? Why do my hands tremble above the keys, knuckles sweating, joints weak?
I think it’s because I am about to be… sincere.
That is quite a scary thing to attempt to do in this day and age, to talk seriously about something that you care about. In most conversation, before you engage in a topic, you need to first establish a distance between yourself and your words, either through a sarcastic tone or a prefacing joke. So that if your conversation doesn’t go to plan, you have a pre-built ironic bomb shelter to hide within. How did the communication of western culture become rooted in such an ironic dissonance that sincere communication is now rare/impossible? It is my opinion that the culprit is both known, named and as prevalent as the air we breathe…
Its name is Memes.

This internet phenomenon has taken a strangle-hold upon the sincere jugular of western humanity, and we currently lie, bug eyed and choking out, under its dank weight.
By and large, the currency in which memes exchange with is irony. Their humour rises from a presumed context, the expectation of which is then slightly altered to a humorous effect. This alteration is a widely varying spectrum from the mundane surprise of a “doggo”, to the mind boggling visual intensity of a danked out, “who up click like?”. The humour occurs when the viewer is a part of a group that understands the context of the joke, and so can recognize the equation; context + alteration = ironic humour. This ironic platform allows memes to present information in a way that is quite troubling.

For an example let me turn to the wildly popular depression meme. Like a lot of memes this comes in many varieties, but all largely revolving around drawing humour from the fact that many people can relate to symptoms of depression. Now, I have heard arguments from some edgy hip liberal academics who say that these memes are facilitating discussion about mental illness and should be encouraged. I would argue that what is more important than the quantity of the discussion, is the way in which the topic is handled. By using irony and sarcasm to approach issues of mental illness, the topic is approached with humour and an ironic distance. Those who participate in these discussions, though they may feel that they are engaging in a healthy, relatable discourse, may really be furthering themselves from their feelings, and genuinely helpful discussions.
But Daniel, isn’t it better to laugh at something, then to allow it to crush you with the weight of its seriousness? Well, yes and no. A joke makes people laugh. An ironic joke makes light of its own context, so that you are not laughing at a humorous situation within the context, but at the context itself. This is an important distinction especially w/r/t the depression meme, as the joke is squarely aimed at the mental illness and its symptoms. This possibly allows those who suffer from depression a brief reprieve, as they recognise and relate to the context, but a secondary element is that it causes one to treat the serious element if their mental health as a joke, and discussion of it to be that of laughter, or none at all. Depression needs to be talked about, and humour probably has some part to play in the discussion, but to turn the issue into an ironic joke separates the discussion from any help it may play in aiding the sufferer.
This use of irony to approach heavy topics is prevalent as fuck in meme culture.
9/11, mass shootings, ISIS, institutionalised racism, sexual abuse, police brutality, are all represented in ironic memes. However, ironic humour that promotes inaction towards an issue is not simply confined to memes. (Is John Oliver helping or hindering the lives of Mexican families living in the US when he makes his white liberal crowds laugh at Trump?) Memes, as they are on the forefront of the way modern youth communicate with the world, have a vast influence on the way that people think, act, and feel.

And this scares the shit outta me.
The solution to this is pretty simple I reckon. If you wanna talk about something, then just fucking talk about it. Don’t masquerade behind a costume of irony. Be sincere with your feelings and yourself. If your friend is joking about something like depression, ask them about it with a straight face.

Irony can only get you so far. Sincerity and openness are much more powerful weapons for dealing with this vapid plane of guilt and turmoil we call a life.
So use it wisely.

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