Two cents blog

Create a Meme? You’ve got to be joking!

by Paul Cornwell on 3 March 2015

We humans have developed a range of coping mechanisms that help us deal with tragedies, sadness, horror, and a whole range of life’s challenges. One that seems to work particularly well is humour.

Horace Walpole, who was the 4th Earl of Orford and was an English art historian, man of letters, antiquarian and all-round good chap summed this up nicely with this quote “The world is a tragedy to those who feel, but a comedy to those who think.”

We seem to find solace in making light of sometimes very difficult subjects and in the past we’ve turned to jokes about even the most tragic events. Whether it’s the Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster in 2003 where seven people died or even the tragic Port Arthur massacre in 1996 where 35 poor souls lost their lives at the hands of the crazed gunman Martin Bryant, jokes always seem to emerge amidst all the shock and sadness.

I remember being horrified about the ‘Q. What were the space shuttle crew drinking when it crashed? A. 7 up!’ joke that was circulating after the news of the Columbia crash.

And psychologists have spent lots of time understanding comedy’s relationship with tragedy.

Dr. Peter McGraw, author of ‘The Humour Code, and an associate professor of marketing and psychology at the University of Colorado Boulder, is an expert in the fields of emotion and behavioral decision theory. He charted peoples responses over time to jokes about a real tragedy, Hurricane Sandy which struck the USA in 2012. His research team was able to plot the way that the jokes were seen as funny prior to landfall, then offensive and unfunny as disaster struck, then funny as the horror faded, then unfunny again, presumably as the event lost its impact and topicality. “We find that temporal distance creates a comedic sweet spot,” he said.

But jokes about tragedy are nothing new, I hear you say.

I agree. But what interests me is how this comedic storytelling has developed since the internet became ubiquitous.

Sarah Silverman makes very un-pc jokes about, of all things, the holocaust and yet gets millions of Youtube views.

And memes have become our modern day, sound-bite style, visual joke that can whiz around the interwebs in a matter of hours.

So what exactly is a meme? Well, there are plenty of descriptions but I would characterise a meme as a term for copied, created and altered grabs of bits of comedic online content. Its forms include animations, photos with captions, online videos & other random things. Often these memes inspire lots of parodies too.

Let me give you a few examples…

The Honey Badger who doesn’t give a sh*t!… which clocked over 72 million views!


And let’s not forget the resulting parodies…


Grumpy Cat is another meme that has gathered worldwide fame

grumpy-cat-i-had-fun-once (1)

There are millions of Epic Fail memes


And many many LOLCats


Or #TheDress which took the internet by storm last Friday

262609D700000578-2971409-image-a-29_1425041115570 262609DD00000578-2971409-image-a-31_1425041131790

But what’s even more interesting, well to me anyway, is how quickly memes develop around current affairs.

Like this one about the NRL Cocaine scandal


So, is it just me or are memes are new way of addressing stuff we don’t really want to deal with?

What do you think?

Paul Cornwell is a Managing Director at BCM

- Alessandro on March 4

Have you noticed that the most popular memes are a form of anthropomorphism? Attributing a human thought or a human behaviour to animals looks to be a winning rule for a meme. Grumpy Cat is a very clear example: human thoughts are transferred to a domestic feline, as a reflection of our self-consciousness. It gets even more interesting when you compare "The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger" to "The Crazy Nastyass Han Solo": both videos play with the leitmotif "who doesn't give a sh*t" - which is a common human behaviour. When that phrase is used to define a person (Han Solo), the video generates thousand views. When the same phrase is attributed to an animal (honey badger)... well, in that case the meme generates million views.

Add your two cents?

Your comment has been received and will appear shortly. Thank you.

There was an error submitting your comment. Please review the fields and try again.

Back to all posts