Teen humor memes: Coping mechanism or stupidity?

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Instagram posts joke about masking up for Coronavirus. Tiktok pages showcase teens pretending to avoid enlistment in “World War Three”. Twitter feeds fill with comments about mental health struggles, garnering thousands of likes.

A meme is a humorous piece of media that is shared and copied, sometimes with slight altercations. As a meme’s popularity expands, it has the potential to become a trend and involved in social culture.

In a world of memes, one may wonder: what is their purpose?

According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in January and February of 2019, major social media sites like Snapchat and Instagram are especially popular for people ages 18 to 24. With this, I ask, who better to assess meme motivation than a teenager?

Using input from Davis High creators on social media and a psychiatrist, I formulated a conclusion: memes are most often used as either an internal/external coping mechanism, or simply for a laugh.

Essentially, the purpose of a meme depends on its subject matter.

Internal Coping

There are two types of memes that are often shared among individuals struggling to come to terms with their internal well-being: dark humor and emotionally relatable messages.

According to a study completed by Scientific Reports in January 2020 regarding dark humor, “the … mood-improving potential of depressive […] memes were all greater amongst individuals with symptoms of depression.” In other words, testers who showed signs of depressive thoughts enjoyed darker memes compared to individuals without negative symptoms.

Likewise to dark humor, emotionally relatable messages attract potentially unstable viewers because of the community it creates.

“I really do think that, for a lot of people, I would imagine that it’s an easier way for them to share something that they’re really struggling with in a more lighthearted way,” said UC Davis child psychiatrist Dr. Joann Park. She believes that by sharing personal conflict with others who can relate an individual may feel comforted.

However, Park warns how sharing feelings for relatability can also be detrimental. “If the content is more self-deprecating, kind of listing the mental health issues as a characteristic that’s inherent, that can’t change, then I don’t think it’s a healthy use of memes,” said Park.

External Coping

When a major issue grips the nation, or even the world, creators are at the ready to make a meme out of the situation. Twisting the concerning reality of the issue into a joke, the meme is passed on or recreated.

The reason for this? Humor is a method of dealing with fear. According to Dr. Gina Barreca in Psychology Today, “humor addresses the same issues as fear, not to dismiss them, but to strengthen our ability to confront them and then laugh them away from the door.”

DHS junior Hailey Treanor runs an Instagram meme account. She “wanted a place to put [saved memes] where others could enjoy them too.”

“[Memes] help normalize [dark stuff happening] and make it a little less intense and scary as it’s portrayed on the news and articles,” she said. Laughing at an altered exhibition of a serious issue can quell fears and calm stress.

Creating Comedy

Aside from providing coping mechanisms, the massive variety of memes can simply be used to spread laughter. DHS senior Anatoly Stukanov created a Tiktok account after the Chinese-created app gained major popularity. His main goal: “seeing people enjoy the content.”

“Following trends or memes is fun because it is what’s popular or funny at the moment, and making a new twist on a meme and making people laugh … is just fun,” Stukanov said. He focuses on the comedy, rather than comfort.

At some levels I think that it can be a great coping mechanism, like a positive one The ability to laugh about it is great, but I think it’s a little more complex than deciding if it’s all good or all bad

I guess it’s their way of sharing their personal experiences, and then it’s also a way for them to kind of relate to other people and then to get the support they need that they feel like would be helpful for them in that moment.

I think that news on mental health issues can be helpful for some people, especially if it’s your way of sharing your own personal experience, in kind of a lighthearted, relatable way where you can get validation from other people.

But I think it gets more tough when the way you share the information, the way the memes are used can also be negative. I think because it’s easier using a meme that I think it’s a place you can go to get help.

But ideally what you want to do is have that conversation with your parents: To talk to them and let them know how you’re feeling so you can get the appropriate help because you know you can’t really get through your depression and anxiety through these memes on the internet.

I think there’s a lot of fear, and so If you’re able to kind of poke fun at that, I think that can lighten the atmosphere. I think teenagers that are using the memes, it can be more impressionable on them, so I think I’d be concerned about that.

I think it’s generally more accepted too in the younger population with the social media usage The more I’ve been seeing with the cultural changes, I think it’s been easier for younger people to be communicating through these mediums and less a kind of face-to-face interaction.

So I do think it’s more of the cultural shift that has occurred that’s made it easier or made it more likely for them to be sharing memes I think it’s humor a good way to respond to a situation that’s serious and that could be harmful.

I do want to caution that it’s going to help to a certain degree – I think its fine to use it in a certain way for it to be helpful but I would caution them to be careful about the content.