Memes are a reflection of culture. They are culture, a language in the form of photos, text, videos and gifs that we use to express ourselves and share our perspectives. They are ideas we share with each other that communicate a common understanding of something.
Memes are often funny and very relatable. They existed long before the internet, although internet memes are what we are most familiar with. And most of them are fleeting; the best ones resurface time and again in a new version with timely, relevant meaning.
What makes a meme a meme is that the idea spreads throughout society. People are the nexus. The requirement is that people need to understand the reference for it to succeed.
While memes can be used for harm and misinformation, they can also serve as a coping mechanism, in times of uncertainty and struggle. They can help us feel part of a larger collective experience. Right now, we in the U.S. are sharing memes about things like working from, panic shopping, social norms, sports cancellations, and the unsurprising failure of the government to act quickly.
As Paul Gil wrote three years ago, memes are like a virus, spreading from person to person, and eventually petering out. I had this same thought about the parallels of COVID19/coronavirus and memes over the past week. And, in my googling, I came across a post written just this past December about flu memes. I expect COVID19 memes to evolve in this direction (visually and verbally) in the coming weeks.
We must also remember that this is a very sensitive time for everyone. Yes, the economic ramifications are affecting everyone on the planet. But many of us are privileged and will ride this out more easily. We are able to work from home and spend inordinate amounts of time looking at memes, reading the news, and being half as productive as normal. Look at me. I just spent an hour writing this blog post, and haven’t been doing much “work” at all this week.
Other people, especially those who are already economically disadvantaged to begin with, are losing their jobs and being thrust deeper into poverty. They will find it very difficult to re-emerge because overall, our society lacks effective safeguards for times like this, let alone “normal” times. Our already shitty healthcare system in the U.S. will see a disruption unlike any before. It is not a humorous moment for those who are most at risk of being laid off or getting ill. There is a correlation here between income, exposure and safety. We have to balance humor with the serious nature of this new reality.
In any case, here are some of my favorite COVID19 memes from over the past week or so. I hope they bring you a sense of connectedness and joy, and some food for thought about this strange and scary time in our lives.