Meme culture among Gen Z takes a darker turn

March 6, 2020 — by Ben Li and Allen Luo

As soon as the COVID-19, aka coronavirus, was declared an emergency, memes ran rampant about the world ending. Jokes included ones about God playing Plague Inc. too well, to people saying they would purposefully contract the virus to avoid school. 

These attempts at humor are typical for many members of Generation Z (born 1997 to 2012), which has a history of turning serious events into little more than jokes for internet points.

Memes have long been a method for strangers to share emotions and experiences over the internet. Many can relate to having the “surprised pikachu” expression at one point, or screaming “omae wa mou shindeiru” as you stab your friends until they fall cold and motionless on the floor in a pool of their own blood. These memes range over an incredible number of topics, from the Internet’s new obsession Baby Yoda to more serious topics like politics.

But times have changed and the original, mostly wholesome memes have lost some of their significance, replaced by irony-laden depressing memes that downplay the significance of darker events. Memes such as “Jeffery Epstein didn’t kill himself” or “Hopefully a car hits me on my way to school” have become the new norm, reflecting the mood of the newly-turned adolescents.

Although most of these memes originate from Gen Z, a few of its members are uncomfortable with the direction they are heading in.

“Honestly, some of these jokes have come to the point where it’s just not funny anymore,” sophomore Glenn Liang said. “It doesn’t feel right to make fun of things like that.”

While these jokes may not have traveled very far in the pre-internet world, the internet allows for a viral explosion overnight, spreading the meme far and wide for people to see, no matter how tasteless it is. This in turn inspires people to create more memes, enlarging the community.

Meme sharing has become a way to express oneself over the internet: to put feelings and emotions into a simple picture or GIF may be the most effective way to be understood these days for younger people. 

When put into perspective, memes and the sharing of memes is a method for burdened adolescents to relieve themselves. If day to day life becomes too stressful, turn to memes to make the day better, but it would be best to leave out the darker side of them.

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