How the internet has changed humor.
When I was little, my siblings and I would go off on these long-winded improv rants where each of us would play a character. We called it “doing voices.” I used to be terrified that the kids at school would find out that we did this and think we were totally nuts. Now I realize that we could have had a YouTube channel and made a damn fortune…
Humor is infinitely weirder now, in the social age. And I think it is because people aren’t as afraid to be themselves. It used to be a few late-night TV hosts or a sitcom with a laugh track. Now it’s the wild west. The internet has allowed so many people to find their “tribes.” So if you really think dogs being scared by their own farts or babies tasting lemons is funny (if you don’t, just get out right now) then there’s a site or a video compilation or a Twitter account just for you. There’s people who get you. You’re not alone.
But then there are those jokes that are just kind of universal… tribeless. And without origin. I’m talking about memes.
I love memes.
Well, I love the good ones.
Well, I think most are lazy, recycled, or downright mean, but occasionally one will just get me. And I really like it when that happens. Because it feels familiar, like a great inside joke with a friend. You’re both in on it, it’s pointed outward (unlike making actual fun of people or being self-deprecating) and it gets funnier with time.
Reddit has some rules for memes, namely that they require “two lines of text that contain a setup and a punchline.” Wikipedia says that memes spread through culture the way that genes spread through a species “in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures.”
If we learned nothing else from Harambe, it is that memes are born for no reason and they will morph into whatever form is most current.
Here are some memes that slay me:
The democratization of content in every vertical has extended to the world of humor. You can be funny without having the courage to stand on a stage. You can be funny with the help of pictures. The internet allows us to combine the verbal and visual together to nail an exact situation or experience. You absolutely know “TFW…”
The Triumphant Rise of Satire
You're probably also aware of what is going on in the world... and that’s where satire comes in. Let me be clear: I know that satire is not new. But the internet has provided a renaissance for the form. The Onion is the clear master of news and political satire, but the medium seems to be getting even more meta. Sites like ClickHole and The Hard Times are creating pieces that satirize internet news and pop culture itself. Fake and bizarre listicles designed to make fun of the inane content created in order to fill the constant demand for new information provided by every refresh of a browser or social feed (and no, we are not lacking self-awareness here…)
For all the goofiness, satire and nonsense, there is a dark side to humor that the internet has brought to light and normalized. Namely the sarcasm and straight up lies.
There is no way to measure the full impact of the internet’s effects on the english language. We’re developing and adopting slang and acronyms at a pace that leaves me in the dust (I have to google something new at least once a week…) But the tone of conversation has changed and there is much more sarcasm. Sometimes that sarcasm is an ironic, almost meloncholy form of reductive hyperbole that I find delightful.
But the overarching attitude that internet has cultivated is the clap back, retort, "burn" style of response to everything. And that sarcasm is darker and very divisive.
Rule #1 of life: NEVER read the comment sections.
For real, you will lose all hope for humanity. But if you do make that mistake, among the barely legible and downright terrifying comments you will find heavy sarcasm as a consistent form of response.
And the Damn Lies
We just can’t get away from that damn fake news, can we? That’s not exactly what I mean here. But the internet provides a level of removal and anonymity that can lead to incredible boldness and callousness… I’ll remind you of rule #1: No. Comment. Sections. That’s where lying comes in. Sometimes this “humorous” kind of lying is like yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. Remember the old #RIP trending phenomenon?
Something about bald faced lying on the internet is really funny to some people.
The internet is the Space-X, turbocharged version of the rumor mill. Things just catch fire and some people really like that kind of arson.
In the past two decades since the internet’s inception, many forms of humor have flourished, and others have corroded the way we communicate with each other. The weird world of memes has created a multitude of hilarious inside jokes that span space, time, culture, and experience and that grow and change with time. Meanwhile, satire in the digital age has taken off running and now we’re satirizing the culture of the internet itself. This brand of humor does double duty: calling us out for our ridiculous addictive behaviors while also giving us a good laugh about it. But then we have the newfound dangers of jokes that just don’t land when you can’t read the jester’s body language or vocal tone, and we’re left with a firestorm of sarcasm and lies that’s hard decipher as a joke or not.
What is the future of humor in the internet age? Will bots become funnier than humans? Or perhaps since it’s becoming harder to make jokes without inciting comment wars, people will take my advice and stop reading the comments altogether... I’m not sure where we’re headed, but like most things in life, there’ll be levity and darkness on the way.
Header photo credit: DTS
Creative Community Director at Snapfluence.
There is often a pen stuck in my hair.