Memes undermine global issues
Not a single soul:
Me: Most American teenagers have had some sort of exposure to memes, the phenomena that cover the internet with photos, videos and other material that are mostly aimed at humor. In this way, most memes are harmless and don’t intend to seriously offend anyone. However, because of its humorous nature, a meme can remove an audience from the topic’s significance.
A prominent recent example follows rising U.S. and Iran tensions developing from the assassination of Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani on Friday, Jan. 3. Upon the news reaching the citizenry, the prospect of Iranian retaliation — in the form of an armed conflict — became a small possibility. On the other hand, when the online community learned of this global issue, meme-creators and others rushed to spread memes about WWIII and the “impending” draft.
Although, according to administration statements from both parties, de-escalation is in progress, the sharp rise of internet humor regarding the conflict remains a concern. Fortunately, the U.S. has not conducted a military draft since 1973, but this also means that most internet users are distanced from the severity of war. This separation makes it easier for creators to post insensitive content on the subject. The internet shifted its audience’s focus away from the senseless death and destruction of military conflict to an amusing outlook on world tensions. With more individuals creating WWIII memes, the conflict now seems more like a joke than what it really is: a crucial global issue.
There is a sentiment that memes are how younger generations communicate and gain an understanding of the world. Additionally, a growing number of individuals learn of significant events through social media, including the Iran tensions. However, this notion does not account for the apathy and distance created from insensitive memes. Even though more teenagers know about global events, it does not justify the general condescending attitude that we have toward events that do not directly affect us. And even if they do directly affect us, meme culture diminishes their relevance. In meme format, the complicated situation of a global issue is compressed to just a few words of sentences. The context, nuances and sometimes why an event is important are lost in translation.
Even more so, people argue that memes are just jokes that mean no harm. Yet, the very fact that events lose significance and immediacy as a result of memes can lead to danger. As of writing this article, the 2019 Novel Coronavirus has led to over 300 confirmed deaths and over 10,000 cases throughout the world. Even so, I still see the amount of memes sharply increase on the subject. Although such content brings attention to the virus, it does little more than distance us from the grave significance of the crisis. In a country relatively distant from the epicenter in China, we should still be aware of the epidemic’s consequences and necessary precautions instead of making light of a faraway issue.
Memes are not inherently bad, and we should not abolish them like some nations abroad have. It is true that memes are how some of us express our emotions, trends and actions. However, we should always keep in mind that global events are significant, and we should keep it in mind even when viewing a meme that doesn’t reciprocate it.
After all, none of us unironically want another world war — and so we shouldn’t make light of it.
By Ethan Park, Opinion editor
Editorial cartoon by Justine Constantino