Humor can relieve anxiety; it can also stoke racial tensions or spread misinformation. So, the answer isn’t simple.
The memes are almost too numerous to typify. Certain products associated with coronavirus have become memes, most notably face masks. As people have run out of masks—which, incidentally, the surgeon general says you don’t need and urges you not to buy—they’ve turned to DIY options so bizarre and instantly internetty that it’s difficult to tell who is serious and who is memeing. People are making masks out of fabric, sure, but also bra cups and giant, winged sanitary pads. In Australia, coronavirus panic has led to mass hoarding of toilet paper to the point where it has created a genuine shortage for some companies, which Aussies are already memetically mocking. Some memes are standard-issue internet fatalism, while others poke fun at the lengths people go to avoid someone coughing. Some are just puns: Corona the beer is having a rough go of it this year, as virus memes have caused its stock prices to plummet. Others are just jokes. “Yeah, no, sorry,” satirical singer Al Yankovic tweeted. “Not gonna do ‘My Corona.’”
Of course, plenty of people do not appreciate people making light of a serious, deadly disease. Public figures from Prince William to controversial celebrity YouTuber PewDiePie have faced online criticism for their coronavirus quips. The debate over jokes about the virus seems to be particularly heated on college campuses. “I visited my daughter at Dartmouth, and in the bathroom someone had written, ‘A lot of people are dealing with anxiety, so it would be better to think twice before joking about coronavirus,’” says Paul Lewis, author of Cracking Up: American Humor in a Time of Conflict. “Like proactive joke prevention.” When a group of students threw a coronavirus-themed party at the University of Albany, complete with Corona beers and face masks, the school’s Asian American Alliance released a statement on Instagram condemning the event, calling it a hate crime. Many instances of coronavirus humor that have drawn backlash, including the University of Albany party and PewDiePie’s comments, have been understood as racially tinged or worse.
Memes del Coronavirus: