Meme culture and the Ukraine crisis

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Freshman English major Jack Burch and freshman theology major Francis Chang study in the library and smile at their phones. Photo by Rosa Venditti.

Memes have once again taken the internet by storm as the Ukraine situation develops, and questions arise as to how we should respond to it. 

Many of these memes center on possible outcomes of the war, the possibility of U.S. citizens being drafted and the heralding of World War III. 

These memes show the stark generational difference in coping with a dire situation. I believe the main reasons behind this are a lack of sensitivity and understanding and the inability to speak seriously about these types of situations.

Freshman education major Miriam Skinner believes that today “people are soft,” and nowadays “people make jokes because they don’t understand a situation.” This would definitely make sense as most citizens in the new generation do not recall the horrors of the great wars and even more recent wars such as Vietnam. 

Generation Z feels disillusioned by the scary possibility of another great war, especially the possibility of getting drafted. The new generation has no wherewithal of the possibility of having to serve in another great war, due to never having to do so in the first place. Because this generation does not know how to deal with such a situation, they make memes to cope, attempting to laugh rather than cry over such a serious situation. 

Some of these memes, for reference, depict how forces  — even soldiers — make light of the situation and do not take the situation seriously even though they may very well be engaged in a full fledged war. 

Freshman history major Fernando Vian believes that the reason these soldiers do not seem to take the situation seriously on camera may be because “war has gotten so much worse, it is a means to cope with their suffering.” This reaction to war may very well be motivated by fear, but a kind of fear that cannot be shared by those on the ground. 

A certain meme that depicts a Ukrainian farmer jokingly asking Russian soldiers if they want help to tow their tank — leading to heartfelt laughter from both — with his tractor brings to life the desire of both sides to prevent conflict from leading to war; this likewise exhibits the message that both countries at heart want to avoid such a devastating conflict — despite the desires of Putin to accomplish his agenda. Thus, memes are used either as a coping mechanism against the heartbreaking reality or as a way of shedding light on what both sides truly hope to be the outcome.  

I believe that memes that shed light on the situation and respectfully show each side’s desire to avoid war may be necessary to bring awareness to the possible horrors to come. They alert the enormous amount of people on social media of the coming danger, giving them great motivation to campaign for peace and spread this message to others.

Even those memes that are insensitive to the situation show the potentially horrible outcomes — in a humorous setting — this may also serve as a wake up call for many serving as a warning for the future. 

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