Netizens flock to pandemic memes as a way of coping with stress.
By Niket Nishant
“NASA: Air pollution is dropping because of Covid-19 lockdown
The guy who ate the bat: See, told ya!”
Termed by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres as the worst crisis to hit the world since World War II, the coronavirus pandemic has forced millions to stay cooped up in their homes. The palpable atmosphere of fear is such that leaders around the world, including Prime Minister Modi, have called for steps to curb panic, besides taking precautions. Amid the daily reports of new Covid-19 positive cases and death toll, people are finding solace in memes like the one above.
“There is a certain prudishness in our society that discourages laughing about a serious issue,” said Ms. Suhani Kar, a student of MBA in Bengaluru. “But laughing is not always about trivialising. It is different from mockery.”
“At times, laughing can be a coping mechanism to deal with depressing events happening throughout the country and also to deal with media burnout. And in this regard, memes help a lot, unless they are deliberately offensive and harmful,” she added.
Trending Us, an entertainment-focussed platform, lists coronavirus memes as one of the most trending memes in India in March. Also, users on Reddit and other social media platforms are resorting to memes to cure the “Lockdown blues”. An anonymous post on Reddit reads, “Man! These jokes are as contagious as the virus itself!”
These memes can also help individuals with mental illnesses. Dr. Sanjay Kumar Agarwal, a psychiatrist from Jamshedpur, said, “When a person is suffering mentally, any form of art — a song, a dance, a book and even a meme, can uplift them. No doubt, these are testing times. When people who generally have a good mental health are in panic, we can only imagine how bad the crisis must be for people who suffer from clinical depression and other mental illnesses.”
“The comic release that memes provide, prevent people from being overwhelmed. They can then see the bigger picture and continue to live for a purpose. And a life of purpose is the most desirable requisite for anyone, in particular, mental health patients,” he added.
However, some warn against the use of jokes to normalise racism. “These are sensitive times, and being insensitive on the internet will not help. At times, such memes deliberately target China. They cannot provide comic release. They are offensive and harmful and might lead to alienation among communities,” said Ms. Mimansha Nayak, a student of Literature from Delhi.
Similar concern was voiced by Mr. Subham Chakraborty, another student from Bhubaneswar. “I do find these memes funny. And they really help me because by nature, I am very panicky. However, I cannot help but wonder how the families of the people who have been infected would take such jokes.”
As Mr. Alokesh Sinha, a stand-up comedian with-1000 odd subscribers on YouTube, explains, “If there is mass-panic, the damage from the pandemic will be even more severe than it already is. There is a need for comic relief now and then. However, people should be cautious not to widen the rift between communities through these jokes. What really matters is the timing of the jokes. If there was a deadly school shooting yesterday, one should not joke about it today. That would be too soon. One has to be given time to adjust to the “new normal”, when one can laugh about serious issues without getting callous about it.”
As of now, 1,727,603 people have been infected with Covid-19 worldwide. The disease has claimed 105,728 lives.