While the spread of COVID-19 continues throughout the world, there are certainly much better things to do than making and sharing memes. However, there is nothing new about turning to humor during hard times. As we saw during the rise of the World War III meme earlier this year, memes can serve as internet culture's ultimate coping mechanism.
We flock to each other when we're in crisis and in today's world, we gather on the internet: We look at our phones and computers for news about how our governments are handling the virus, information about what to do, updates on when we'll be able to leave our homes. We also log-on to see which 20-second song bites to wash our hands to and to check if making our own hand sanitizer is the right move (it's harder than it looks). And through remote workdays and quarantines, we stay connected online.
Apart from providing comfort when so much feels uncertain, memes can also be very telling. Like the internet's tea leaves, a handful of the most-circulated and replicated memes give us a pretty comprehensive picture of how the world is processing the pandemic
With millions of combined shares, the following memes are helping the internet mitigate anxiety and fear with a good laugh.
The Vietnamese Hand Washing Song
We learned to dance to Doja Cat's "Say So" and we learned the steps to Zico's "Any Song." Hand-washing is one of the best things you can do right now, but not all hand-washing is equal. There is no shame in dancing to a hand-washing song, in fact, it might actually be fun.
Dancer Quang Dang worked with the Vietnamese Health Ministry to develop a hand-washing dance and it has since gone viral on TikTok. The song is a remix of an already popular pop song, but the Vietnamese Health Ministry's Corona Song includes educational lyrics and hand-washing advice. Countries all over are taking note and responding with their own — albeit less catchy — "Corona Songs," like this Corona Cumbia.
"Been thinking about life and mortality today"
It is certainly not the best time to be cavalier about death, but the "been thinking about life and mortality today," meme has a relevant backstory. Arizona congressman Paul Gosar tweeted: "Been thinking about life and mortality today. I'd rather die gloriously in battle than from a virus. In a way, it doesn't matter. But it kinda does." Attached was a still from the 2018 Korean war movie, The Great Battle. Just before, Gosar retweeted a tweet that stated: "Anyone who refuses to call this the Wuhan Virus or Chinese Coronavirus is helping the Communists' attempts to rewrite history."
In theory, counting to 20 while washing your hands should be a manageable task, but in practice, 20 seconds has become an incalculably elusive unit of time. Luckily, the internet has produced innumerable hand-washing diagrams with song lyrics to hum to yourself while you get your 20 seconds in.
A UK-based developer created a tool, Wash Your Lyrics, where you can enter a song title and artist name in order to generate a hand-washing diagram to your song of choice. It's Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, it's Miley Cyrus's The Climb, and because we are in cyberspace, it's also Smash Mouth's All Star.
It’s almost redundant to include Donald Trump in a meme roundup, given how supremely meme-able his every step seems to be. But #NeroTrump is trending on Twitter because the president retweeted a meme (originally shared by the assistant to the president and White House social media director, Dan Scavino) where he is depicted playing the violin with meme-type words saying, "My next piece is called… Nothing can stop what's coming." Ominous? Yes. Easy to understand? Not really. Even the president lacked clarity, noting in his retweet, "Who knows what this means, but it sounds good to me!"
Of course, people trying to make sense of it all drew an inconvenient connection to Nero, the hedonistic Roman emperor often depicted playing the fiddle while Rome burns.
The Stockpiling Haul
A raspy voice with a Spanish accent says: "It's corona time!" and a beat plays in the background as TikTokers, mostly across America, chronicle their stockpiling journeys. Some videos showcase gallons of hand sanitizer and overflowing refrigerators, while others show empty Target shelves and ghost-town public transit. Despite pleas urging the public to avoid buying more supplies than needed, the quarantine stockpile is being showcased like it's any other haul, and Vox's Rebecca Jennings calls it a "macabre comfort."
"Nature Is Healing, We Are The Virus"
In mid-March, a viral Tweet showed schools of fish and even swans swimming in the clear-watered canals of Venice. The original poster added later that dolphins were seen swimming in the Venetian canals, allegedly recovering from human pollution thanks to the lockdown.
One follow-up Tweet read: "Nature just hit the reset button on us." And before long, images of animals roaming vacant streets and revitalizing empty cities were being shared. But while an IRL version of Animal Crossing would be a much-needed upside to all the bad news, it turns out these claims are mostly fake. Unfortunately, we're not living in a post-apocalyptic world where the planet is recovering, no thriving, in the absence of humans.
As BuzzFeed News reported, the original meme was born in late March, when someone tweeted a picture of scooters floating in a river: "with everyone on lockdown, the lime scooters are finally returning to the river. nature is healing, we are the virus."
"We are the virus" sounds like an indirect quote from a major scene of 1999's The Matrix. With the pandemic, the lockdowns, the protective masks, and the virtual everything, it's only natural to think this is a major turning point in human history. It's dark but it's a path we've walked a thousand times in movies, comics, and most recently, Grimes' latest album and books like Ling Ma's Severance. But it doesn't look like we're remotely close to any kind of sci-fi reality. Thank, goodness.