Indiana Daily Student

OPINION: The pandemic is changing how we joke online

<p>Notes, a laptop and a phone displaying social media posts fill a student’s desk.</p>

Notes, a laptop and a phone displaying social media posts fill a student’s desk.

This pandemic’s been a real bummer.

That’s the kind of understatement I hope to upstage by the end of the decade. My fellow columnists have explained at length all the ways this whole kerfuffle has ruined their college experiences. I agree with them, but this Kafkaesque isolation nightmare has at least made for some solid humor online.

Notable satirical publication and last fading beacon of hope The Onion published some biting commentary Thursday: “Black Man Shot By Police After Matching Description For COVID-19.” But the Onion has almost always been funny, even before this mess.

During widespread social distancing, a lot of people are bored and left with nowhere to direct their attention outside of social media. Many have been that way for more than a month. As a consequence, the pandemic seems to be causing a cultural shift in what we find funny.

This new wave of humor is much more introspective and has a fixation on being physically isolated. That fixation is intensified by the wide access to huge groups of people at any given time through social media.

I have no source for this, but getting bangs is the human equivalent to a fox chewing off its leg to escape a trap. A traumatizing physical change that will nonetheless prove futile to relieve the danger of current circumstances. I invite you to search “bangs” on Twitter and look in despair at the sheer number of people cutting their own hair.

In the Netflix adaptation of the "Castlevania" video game series, one of the immortal protagonists is shown having made dolls of his friends and conducting whole conversations with them. He swears his mind is gone and wonders aloud how many years he’s been alone. But he's been alone for only a month. Meanwhile, his friends have spent that time going on adventures throughout Europe. No wonder some viewers have found this part of the show painfully relatable.

If the literal viral disease ravaging the planet right now wasn’t enough, we’re seeing a notable uptick in engagement with day-of-the-week-themed hashtags on Twitter, according to BuzzFeed. My personal #MondayMotivation? Surviving the deluge of vacuous, corporate-vetted social media posts.

It’s also funny that, given how much we’re warned not to spend too much time on social media, Twitter has become such a critical social venue. I dare you to try and go a day without engaging with social media. Look up from your phone and live in the moment! Stare at the wall while your roommate stares at the ceiling! There’s a frustratingly finite world within a single apartment.

My days have mostly been filled with moving my attention from a podcast to a YouTube video and then to Twitter. It only makes sense that me and thousands of other Twitter users have found inspiration in a meme of a girl musing about how video games are better than a boyfriend. Video games are important.

The coincidence of "Animal Crossing New Horizons" being released during this pandemic is extremely fortunate for those of us who support predatory loans and doing chores — both central parts of the video game. It’s a game designed to be a massive time suck. You bet there’s an avalanche of "Animal Crossing" content on virtually every social network.

Humans are social animals, and finding a satisfying replacement for that experience is difficult, especially for extroverts. Introverts, on the other hand, get to relish these weeks in confined quarters as the beautiful world outdoors might as well be the river Pripyat in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster.

If left alone too long, both extroverts and introverts can have weird experiences. It can be upsetting, or it can be kind of funny. Let’s just be glad we’re trending toward funny.

Liam O'Sullivan (he/him) is a senior studying film and is an editor-in-chief of the Hoosier Flipside. He will stop at nothing to direct a Star Wars movie.

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