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The War of Memes

Updated: Feb 25, 2020

by TOMMY PUGH and SOPHIE GORECKI - How the threat of WWIII caused memes to flourish.

Okay. At this point, we all know World War III isn’t happening (yet). But dang, just a few weeks ago all were unsettled by the growing tension between Iran and the United States, and we feared the outbreak of some kind of war. It seems there’s only so much time before we hit global conflict, so why not assume it’s happening now?

But that’s in the past and our minds can lay at rest for now, knowing that we are safe, our families are safe and our armed forces are safe from the threat of war. We’re not going to lie, however. Something came out of all that turmoil, a diamond from the heat and pressure of looming war: memes.

We, as twenty-first century citizens, are living in a social world, and memes are representative of the impact of social media and dark humor on our personalities. It’s part of how we communicate and emote. When something as stressful as the possibility of World War III presses down on us, we will most definitely panic and worry. Through this, iconic memes are born, as we shove our emotions down and bottle them up, laughing on the outside. This is a coping behavior, and as studies have found, memes serve as coping mechanisms for our generation.

Using humor as a coping mechanism has also been found to be useful for those in stressful situations within the workplace. One study found that groups of emergency medicine workers on Reddit use memes to cope with their own stress and burnout (Drury). These short, comedic posts can help those with intensive jobs to cope with their own daily stress, so it’s no surprise we see memes on distressing current events when we open Twitter or Instagram. They can be a way to make light of a difficult situation and can help us connect with people who have similar worries. While often dark, memes are a way for our generation to share our common struggles in a simple yet clever manner.

Memes can also serve as a (somewhat) educational tool by starting conversations that normally can be daunting. Although memes and the Internet are relatively new, the practice of using humor to start important conversations is not. Communications professor at Hampshire College, Dr. Viveca Greene, Ph.D, states, “It’s not the endpoint, but humor has always been used to draw attention to issues in a way that people aren’t as turned off by as they are if you came with a serious voice and a wagging finger” (Ellis). These were important when the threat of war loomed over us, and the memes helped us process and understand the actual global issue. It raised awareness, to say the least.

Interestingly, some psychologists have even linked memes to Maslow’s pyramid of needs, for all the AP Psych students. Being a part of meme culture gives a sense of belonging to many, as being able to relate with others through humor helps satisfy a desire to fit in (Arora). World War III memes exemplify this. When many of us were feeling isolated, terrified, and alone in the world, the memes helped connect us. We all could laugh along because we all realized we felt the same way about something.

So overall, while the World War III memes are sort of morbid, they actually help unite us. Living amidst the threat of a world war can be pretty terrifying, but memes are essentially the best coping mechanism we have (plus they’re pretty funny). So retweet, like, and comment, because World War III memes aren’t so bad after all.

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