With the rise of social media and internet culture, a new type of humor arose: memes. Memes are often humorous images with a caption, edited to fit a certain scenario. Think of Bad Luck Brian from the early 2010s that had captions like “Parents get divorced, nobody wants him.”
Gen Z, the generation born between 1996 and 2010, popularized meme culture and brought memes to mainstream media. In recent years memes have become more topical, touching on issues such as mass shootings, war and genocide.
This has become a sort of way for the younger generations to cope with scary situations. Gen Z is a politically active generation with access to new technology, which has resulted in the rise of politically charged memes.
A Business Insider survey found that about 65% of Gen Z youth use Instagram every day.
Instagram is the most popular way for memes to be shared, and thousands of meme accounts exist and are created every day. After the 2020 Baghdad International Airport Strike, a panic about a possible World War III arose. Soon after memes on Instagram began to pop up poking fun at the possibility of war and drafting of young adults.
Memes, like one depicting a crying Kim Jong Un with the caption, “When they start WWIII without you,” went viral and brought humorous commentary to the terrifying thought that war would break out.
According to a joint study conducted by GlobalWebIndex and Snapchat, about 95% to 98% of the U.S.’s Gen Z population own a smartphone.
With such easy access to technology, teenagers are able to keep up with what is going on in the world, which sometimes is not pleasant. Teens are able to share, create and find memes about situations they face. By joking around and relating to one another about these issues, teenagers are able to laugh and relate to one another, which makes comprehending difficult situations easier.
Today, teenagers being unmotivated and uneducated about the world is a common misconception. This idea is preached by older generations that social media and technology are causing laziness and apathy in today’s youth. For the most part, this common misconception could not be further from the truth.
A study conducted by PLOS ONE said that almost 40% of teenagers surveyed felt stressed due to politics, and 20% feel physically impacted with loss of sleep, symptoms of depression and fatigue. The study also said that left-leaning and younger respondents were more likely to feel that politics negatively impacts them.
This has culminated in memes being shared about teens’ political views. On social media teens have posted about new legislation and breaking news such as mass shootings and disasters caused by climate change.
The misunderstanding older generations have about Gen Z has become a meme. “Ok Boomer” is a phrase used to respond to older generations, typically Baby Boomers, about their outdated political and social views. A real life example of this is when Chlöe Swabrick, a 25-year-old lawmaker from the UK, gave a Parliament speech about climate change, as the Washington Post reported.
Memes have become a way for a politically charged generation to be and feel heard. Gen Z has powerful technology in their pockets, which gives them the ability to spread their messages and ideas to a large audience through social media. Memes have become more than humor for Generation Z.
Memes have become a tool in a rapidly changing political climate. Memes make light out of world changing news that affects teens’ futures. Information spreads through images and videos nowadays, and Generation Z has taken advantage of the digital age to use memes as a method of spreading political messages in a humorous manner, allowing them to appeal to a large audience and feel easier to swallow.