Ah, memes - the Gen Z edition of conveying one’s sense of humor.
A great invention, I might say.
The image, coupled with a witty caption and/or reimagined context, provides an inside look into the mind of the creator by conveying their unique blend of visual and semantic associations to the masses. With the ongoing global pandemic, what better way is there to share jokes than through posting intricately-crafted memes?
Well, there’s the issue of genuine human connection, or lack thereof.
Quarantine has led me to me realize that relating to and laughing at memes only create the illusion that we are understood within the wider community, or in other words, it’s only a pseudo-connection.
A proper meme should contain a joke, often a remark regarding a photo or video. The text either embeds the joke in the frame of reference or strips the image of its context altogether. Regardless, a functional meme should provide sufficient context for the audience to grasp the creator’s comedic vision of the given scenario. Whether or not a meme caters to the viewer’s sense of humor, it was created with the intent of it being understood. So no, you aren’t special for getting the joke.
Unlike with a riddle told manually, the recipient of a meme, in most cases, is sat alone in their room, scrolling through social media at a time they probably shouldn’t be. Identifying with the creator and comments doesn’t mean you’re laughing with other people, it means you have a brain. Your brain works and you’ve just viewed something that people find funny. One can also compare this analogy to other forms of media and ask, So what’s the difference? Literature, film, theatre, etc. are bound to invoke richer discussion unlike most memes, which often invoke nothing more than a nose-huff of laughter and a double-tap at best. Memes are addicting, but are they worth our time?
Sharing memes with one another, however, is a different story. Similar to discussing common interests, the back-and-forth sending of memes has the potential to reinforce existing relationships and add a fresh dimension to both monotonous and prosperous ones alike.
Once in a while, I still allow myself to wallow in the cesspool of memes that is my Instagram feed - and by once in a while, I mean one hour maximum per day. Maybe.
With these revelations in mind, though, I have to remind myself that the resulting illusion of human connection may be preventing me from reaching out to people I know during quarantine. I’ve found that the healthiest way for me to devour memes as I please is to forward my favorites to a friend and start a conversation rather than scrolling past right away :)
When shelter in place hit my mother handled it really, really well.
She did not break shelter-in-place rules to drive over to check on me.
She did not call daily asking if I had been infected.
She did not mail me giant care packages of canned food + masks
(she does still send me cards every week, but cardmaking is her sanity-saving hobby)
Instead she texted, as she has learned this is my preferred mode of communication. It's the only method that doesn't suck up 30 minutes minimum of our time. She asked how I was doing and if I still had my job.
As proof that I was doing okay (really), I started texting her memes every other day. I knew she didn't really use social media so she wouldn't see anything except scary news stories on TV.
One of the first ones I sent was this one: https://www.reddit.com/r/rarepuppers/comments/fxz0ym/all_the_humans_with_muzzles_who_did_they_bite/
It got to the point my feed dried up, and I had to start actively looking for memes to send her. It felt a bit silly; I should have been sending her CDC reports, mask patterns, or shelter-in-place exercises, but no. Just a litany of photoshopped bad jokes.
One week it got so hot I stopped sending them, lest my phone battery explode, and she immediately checked in to see if I was okay.
This week there weren't any memes, which she understood. Instead we just had some sorrowful "Yeah, mom, it sucks right now but this is how the world gets better" exchanges. Still texts. I couldn't find words to use over a phone.
For reference, my mother has pretty much all the health issues that make COVID a death sentence. Honestly speaking I should probably try to spend more time with her while I can, understanding that at any moment she could end up quarantined until the end. However, I've grown up expecting my mother to die before I ever graduated high school (another story for another time) so I've prepared myself so hard for this inevitability I fear I'm too jaded now to confront it.
Instead I just keep sending memes - funny memes, geeky memes, sad memes, honest memes, cute memes, scifi memes, fantasy memes, any memes I can find - in the hopes that maybe they can communicate my wish that she stay positive right now. They're my crutch, my pathetic excuse at social interaction. My band-aids for the psychic wounds I know she’s taking as a mother unable to make the world safe.
That said, I need to get the meme engine back up again soon. Maybe it’s too soon, but I like to think laughter helps reduce hypertension and if that’s the best I can do for her, so be it.
If anyone has any suggestions, I'm open to them.
Just keep in mind, I send these to my mom, please keep it PG-13.