8 Apr 2020
Humour helps us deal with anxiety and the current pandemic is a testament to that notion.
A global pandemic is no laughing matter…or is it?
The coronavirus pandemic has changed our behaviour significantly and instilled fear in many, but it has also led to an outpouring of humour.
Take for instance all the toilet-paper memes such as Jesus-multiplying-TP-rolls, or the video with the guy who cleans the New York Subway turnstile only to jump over it. Or the picture of a Bosnian Gastarbeiter (migrant worker) in Germany in his living room with a cement mixer “working-from-home” meme. Then there’s the universal yelling-woman-cool-cat meme and all the Halal memes (with their equivalents from other religions).
Some of the initial jokes poked fun at people and politicians taking the pandemic too lightly, laughing it off or chalking it up to some made-up internet fad. Most countries aimed jokes at their political leadership which could be classified under the ’emperor-has-no-clothes’ category.
The US with its terribly late response to corona, in the middle of an electoral campaign, quite naturally gravitated to jokes relating to US politics and the continuous absurdity of the American president, for instance, when he rated the response to the outbreak as a ’10’.
Some jokes reveal panic or mock panic. Most jokes, just like in Roberto Benini’s Life is Wonderful, seem to be a way of coping with fear just as excessive hoarding or panic-buying is a way to handle anxiety.
Many of us who have experienced war or been refugees have seen this before. A sign of authenticity in any creative endeavour that deals with catastrophes is that it can relate to a local sense of humour. The same holds true for the coronavirus pandemic.
The endless feed of jokes is revealing of our cultural make-up and how we are changing. As Swedes with multiple ethnic origins – Bosnian, Pakistani, Turkish, German, Kashmiri – and intimate experiences with many other cultures, we can recognise the styles of humour particular to those cultures we belong to. But we are also global subjects, like so many of us these days, and can see how humour has become more transnational.