On Jan. 3, President Trump ordered a drone strike near the Baghdad airport, killing Major General Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s most powerful military commander and leader of special-operations forces abroad. Despite escalating tensions and open possibilities for war, many social media users have chosen to respond by creating memes that downplay the significance of the event. The memes are very insensitive and lighthearted because those who create jokes and laugh do not realize the gravity of this issue, nor do they think that the crisis is going to affect them. Although they consider these memes and jokes a coping mechanism, they really serve no purpose but to avoid reality and ignore the Iraqi citizens who are struggling through their daily lives of airstrikes and attacks.
Initially, in the early 2000s, memes were an aspect of the internet that people would stumble upon from time to time, find themselves amused, and send to someone else for their enjoyment. Then, with rapidly evolving digital communication methods and devices, teenagers and young adults have created a new cultural movement in the form of ‘meme.’ Memes often consist of a picture from a viral video or cartoon, which is then followed by a caption that references to relatable scenarios or anything related to economic, social, or political issues. Due to its inherent nature to amuse people, they are often considered as ‘dark humor’ or offensive to target groups of people.
Even if war or any kind of armed conflict does happen, it is most likely going to impact those living in the Middle East, not those living in the US. The past US intervention in the Middle East resulted in minimal to almost no casualties of US citizens, but thousands of innocent citizens from the Middle East were killed by drone strikes or shootings. Even if a war breaks out, it is very unlikely that the wealthy would be affected by it as they can easily exempt themselves from the military draft. Regardless, even if a young man in the US thinks that a war might break out, he may make a joke about being drafted because he believes it will not happen in reality. Some meme creators do not realize the privileges they have living far away from the violence in the Middle East. For example, one meme showed NBA superstar Michael Jordan’s happy face next to his tearful face, and added the caption “Me laughing at all these World War 3 memes vs. me when I get the draft letter.” Intended to create humor, this meme really serves to highlight the creator’s lack of understanding of the situation and naive belief that a military draft will not really affect him.
This political insensitivity from those living in a country that can attack other countries is a shameful act, as relatability or popularity with people across the nation should not outweigh the real struggles taking place in war-torn areas. Living in a world where privilege becomes a justification for ignoring people of different cultures’ difficult lives should not happen, nor should we consider downplaying and creating lighthearted jokes as an important part of our internet culture. Another meme showed a white man in formal clothes posting on Instagram live while a village behind him explodes. Not only does this denigrate the memories of those who died during the bombings, but the public also does not realize how hurtful and ignorant these jokes are.
Many people consider these jokes that hurt people and undermine reality to be coping mechanisms, which has been the claim since memes were created. Many experts claim that there were jokes about wars since there have been wars, and many consider humor as the last resort, or desperate effort to distance themselves from a bad fate of reality. The memes often present a “laugh to keep from crying,” tone, despite the fact that this dark humor usually only benefits those at the top of the power structure of this world.