You get them almost every day and sometimes even get the feeling that the traffic on the Internet consists mainly of them: the pictorial jokes called “memes.” Linguist Dr. Inke Du Bois and a research group of international master’s students from the University of Bremen have now dedicated themselves to “digital humor.” Around 1,000 memes on the topic of COVID-19 were gathered and analyzed by Bremen students, their parents, grandparents, and friends. The project was sponsored by the Dean's Office of the Faculty Linguistics and Literary Studies.
The linguist discovered that a whole new type of humor had emerged among the younger generation, whereby young people like to tease themselves about their own situations. The oldest generation (94- to 77-year-olds), on the other hand, had a sense of humor that united them during the worst phases of the coronavirus pandemic. However, Generation X – those born between 1965 and 1980 – tend to use a more aggressive type of humor than the other generations.
Different Humor Depending on Your Generation
“The older generations tended to focus on topics such as wearing masks, toilet paper, and panic buying, while the younger generations focused more on failed travel plans, Zoom video conferences, and the boredom of everyday life during lockdown,” says Inke Du Bois. “It was also striking that the youngest of Generation Z (born 1996 to 2010) used the most combined visual and verbal humor types in their memes. This means that the concept of ‘digital native speakers’ – those who grew up with the Internet and its applications – is reflected here.”
In an international comparison, there were astonishing parallels with regard to humor surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. Despite completely different political and cultural backgrounds in Europe, Asia, and Africa, the “personification of the coronavirus” humor type was the same across cultures. This type identifies the virus being portrayed as a person who stays longer than planned and gains control over travel plans, study plans, and so on.
“The systematic analysis of digital humor thus opens up a window into different generational and linguistic cultures,” says the linguist. “Even though the coronavirus pandemic affected everyone, the various age groups communicated with their smartphones about it very differently.”
Du Bois, I. (to be published in 2023): “COVID-19 Humor: Memes across Gender, Generations, and National Languages”. Frontiers in Communication
Du Bois, I. (to be published in 2023): Multimodality in Digital Communication: Memes and Animated GIFs in Social Media and Messaging Environments. In: F. Vogel & J. Androutspoulous: Language and Digital Communication Handbook. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter
Dr. Inke Du Bois
University of Bremen
Faculty 10 – Linguistics and Literature
English-Speaking Cultures – Department of English Studies/Linguistics
Tel.: +49 421 218-68187
Email: Duboisprotect me ?!uni-bremenprotect me ?!.de