Just Another Gen Z Thing

It’s a bleak time to be growing up, so can teenagers be blamed for coping with the world through ironically apocalyptic memes?



At first glance, memes that poke fun at global problems can appear insensitive. But they’re worth a closer look.

Anjana Suresh, Copy Editor

The start of a new year, especially the beginning of a new decade, is often associated with feelings of hope, promise, and the chance to begin anew. But not everyone is in such a good mood this time around.

Just a few days into 2020, I opened my phone to a CNN article notification reading, “Your mental health in 2020: divisive politics, work stress, and environmental perils can leave anyone feeling anxious or depressed. Here are 5 ways to improve your mental outlook.”

The notification was spot on. Soon thereafter, tensions with Iran escalated, General Soleimani was executed, and the devastating wildfires in Australia began to spread like, well, wildfire.

And soon after those events came the memes.

It felt as if only moments later social media was swept up in fears of a potential “World War III” due to Soleimani’s death.  Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok were flooded with ironic memes about what people would do in the event a draft.

“Immersing yourself in nihilistic internet musings” should have been one of the five solutions on the CNN article.

I found some of the memes to be quite entertaining, and in some cases, even informative—I learned from a TikTok video, for instance, that the Vietnam draft ended in 1973. And, as expected, most of the content creators are a part of my generation, making the memes more relatable. 

With the threat of a potential world war and catastrophic climate change looming over our heads, it really is quite a bleak time to be growing up.”

It’s common knowledge that our generation is labeled as too sensitive. But with the threat of a potential world war and catastrophic climate change looming over our heads, it really is quite a bleak time to be growing up. For me, and for many other teenagers, social media offers a sense of comfort. By extension, making and sharing memes has come to resemble a sort of coping mechanism—a way for us to deal with the scary unknown in a world where we frankly don’t have much power.

Many adults believe that joking about the horrors of war dishonors those who have sacrificed their lives for the safety of our country. It’s an understandable criticism, but it’s not entirely accurate.

Most of the memes I’ve seen don’t use the plight of affected soldiers simply for likes or followers or merely for the sake of a laugh, and, if a creator were to do so, they would immediately be called out by others. 

Actually, Gen Z appears to know where to draw the line. I have yet to see a meme about the Australian wildfires where the creator pokes fun at the situation. Because it is truly a tragic event, no one with an ounce of compassion would dare pass it off as something insignificant. On the other hand, World War III is hypothetical and the chances of an actual global war starting are slim — and that’s not just according to me.

I’ve come to realize another scary truth about the evolution of memes. It seems like there’s been a shift from random and lighthearted content to more serious humor, which now constitutes a much larger percentage of the content I see online today. Movies, books, and adults, too, have all told us that our teenage years are supposed to be among the best in our life. But, given what I’ve seen online and have experienced myself, that doesn’t seem to be the case for our generation. Relationship problems, school stress, and school shooters have all been popular subjects for memes within the last year. 

Worst of all, phrases such as “I want to die” and “Just kill me” are now commonly seen in memes, making it frustratingly and dangerously difficult to tell what’s real from what’s fake. However, since social media gives us an outlet to share our thoughts, messages can often be exaggerated, especially for those looking to gain popularity.

Like just about everyone else, I hope there isn’t a World War III.  And as odd as it may sound, the memes are already starting to die down, which is probably a good sign for all of us. 

On a lighter note, here’s some WWIII-related memes I found particularly enjoyable.