A laughing matter: Where do we draw the line with memes and satire?
Almost every single one of us is guilty of it – a big news story breaks and we head to one of two or three places to get that further inside scoop. Twitter. Instagram. And depending on whether you’re a millennial/Gen X or Gen Z, you can throw in Facebook and TikTok in for good measure as well.
Regardless of which generational box you tick though, turning to the news as our first port of call for big stories is becoming less and less of a necessity, and that’s largely because of the accessibility of the internet.
But how has this really changed the way we receive news?
Well for starters, your timeline/newsfeed is unfiltered and uncensored for the most part, both to its betterment and detriment almost in equal measure. Which means that satire – largely in the form of those funny little things we like to call memes – is more popular than ever.
Harmless though right? How can these easily shareable, bitesize bits of comedic gold be problematic? Well, not quite. There’s a deeper angle we need to factor in when discussing the future of memes, and more broadly speaking – satire. But we’ll get into that.
First things first. Before we upick the nuances of why satire might not always be best placed at the front seat of our news sharing, we should start by agreeing that when it’s good, it’s fucking great. The best thing about it is that there’s pretty much something for everyone.
From Football Twitter, to Loveofhuns – everyone can get their due slice of belly laughs. Not forgetting when two or more worlds collide and you end up in the middle of some Nirvana-like, Venn diagram of memes.
Everyone remembers the length and breadth of the internet the Bernie Sanders meme from Joe Biden’s inauguration travelled back in 2021, right? And did it just stay within the realms of politics? Not a chance. So whether it meant to at the time or not – which it didn’t – is irrelevant. Because it shone even more of a spotlight on a world-changing event.
So while not everyone was doing it consciously, we were all becoming more actively involved in politics. And that can never be a bad thing.
From politics to downright hilarious nostalgia. Everybody take note of this.
If you’re already familiar with the aforementioned Loveofhuns, then just sit back and enjoy this ode to a pop culture masterpiece. Whereas those of you that aren’t, please pay attention.
If you’re one of the 18 million instagram users in the UK then you have the opportunity to be ‘hunned’. But how do you sum up something so seemingly niche on paper? In essence, ‘Hun culture’ is a safe space for everyone’s inner pop culture vulture. It’s self-deprecating. It’s got its finger well and truly on the pulse of current affairs. Above all though, it’s hilarious.
Remember that Nirvana/Venn diagram analogy from before, right? Well picture that, only this time with Soaps and Reality TV, back when they were in their 90s/00s pomp. Millennials I’m especially talking to you. All of that mixed in with the most topical talking points in the country at any given time.
It doesn’t matter if it’s Love Island or shining a light on some of the biggest news in sport, politics and beyond – no one is spared.
The cultural impact of not only Loveofhuns, but the half a dozen or so others in the same vein is almost unquantifiable. And a page that is so lighthearted, entertaining and witty can only be a good thing, can’t it? For the most part, completely.
Although the reality is, memes don’t just start and stop with ‘Hun culture’ unfortunately.
Here’s the thing with any art form – once it’s out there you can’t control its narrative. There are countless examples of something with innocent intentions being turned into something far more sinister.
It should go without saying, but let’s say it anyway. Anything racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, or plain old bigoted that is passed off as *cringes* – banter – is the lowest form of wit. There’s never an excuse for it.
Aside from the abhorrent, it’s important to factor in that not all attempts at satire aren’t as black and white. Where do we draw the line between harmless mockery and making too much light of a serious situation? That’s the inner conflict.
There’s no rulebook for what’s deemed to be on the right side of humour, but what is worth pointing out is that even gags that aren’t overly offensive necessarily can still divert attention away from the seriousness of the matter at hand.
Prime example? The fallout from Prince Andrew’s disastrous Newsnight appearance at the back end of 2019. When we first think of the car crash interview itself, as journalist, Emily Maitlis quizzed the late Queen’s son on his involvement with convicted sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein, we don’t always consider the severity of the interview itself.
Admittedly, what can often spring to mind is the ridiculousness of some of the responses from the disgraced Royal. And then the fallout. Clips. Memes. Jokes even. All of which serving as some sort of sinister distraction tactic from the crux of the interview and the scandal on the whole – that there were poor young women that were victim to harrowing cases of sexual assault. All of which a member of the Royal Family was allegedly privy to.
When you put it like that – the ridiculous responses become incriminating, while the jokes become instantly unfunny. If that’s not food for thought, then I don’t know what is.
Now that’s not to say that there’s no place for satire in the world. Some of the things I love most wouldn’t exist – or at least not in the same guise – if not for a little light (or dark) humour. We need it. What we don’t need is humour at the expense of victims of the most serious crimes imaginable.
Whether it’s our climate, our government, or with any other governing bodies for that matter – there have never been more reasons to be pissed off. It seems like everyone around us in power is fucking up. And getting away with it.
So in some ways, comedy has never been more important in stopping the rest of us from completely losing it at the thought of any more incompetence.
Just spare a thought next time though. Who’s the real butt of the joke in this meme I’m resharing? If I strip back the initial thrill I get from a risky gag, is it still funny? Only you and your moral compass will know when and where those questions need to be asked. But if you even have to ask – that means you probably already know the answer.