Comedy in a Foxhole: World War III Memes Conquer the Internet

Evan Gmahle, Staff Writer

When President Donald Trump ordered the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, a high-ranking Iranian military official, American-Iranian tensions drastically spiked. The world looked on and wondered: “what is to become of this?”

The most pessimistic of pundits had predicted the possibility of war, even a world war. Internet connoisseurs, however, will not give up an opportunity for a good joke.

Soon after the world heard the news, internet memes detailing the events in some humorous way went gone viral.

Memes are inherently hard to classify, owing to the variety of formats used, but major themes in World War III memes involve being drafted, the assassination of Soleimani, the dropping of nuclear weapons, the heightened tensions between Iran and the United States or simply the horrors of war.

The humor of these lean closely to dark comedy. It’s difficult to joke about impending death without some of it.

Junior Venn Reddy agreed, saying “You take what could be a scary situation, and by injecting humor into it you’re able to decrease the fear around the situation.”

One of the many memes about a potential World War III posted to social media.

War is a situation with many strong feelings to it, chief among them being fear. The use of humor as a coping mechanism against fear has a history to it; as a Stanford study found humor to be useful in dealing with graphic images.

Reddy continued with this idea, saying, “The world’s going downhill, but at least we can take solace that this is a humorous situation.”

Junior Cole Suplee holds a differing view. “It’s not really a coping mechanism because a lot of the people aren’t directly involved,” he said. “It’s just taking a situation and poking fun at it.”

On dark comedy, though, he agrees with Reddy’s verdict.

“It’s poking fun at the situation and the events that led up to it,” he said. No matter how unfortunate the situation may be, there is at least something, anything comedic to be found in it.

A meme about World War III, in reference to the tendency of social media users to make light of serious world events.

Junior Anvika Menon had yet other things to say on the topic.

She said the memes did indeed appeal to a sense of gallows humor, but also that this brand of humor may only be overlooking the dire effects a war would possibly have on those directly involved.

“I get why they’re funny, but I think they’re undermining the consequences of what may happen,” she said.

This disconnect from those who would be hurt by the conflict and those joking about it makes it seem less like laughing at one’s own unfortunate situation, but rather laughing at the situation of others, she said.

The use of the memes as a method of escape brings up questions of what exactly people are escaping from. Reddy, Suplee and Menon all agreed the fears presented in the memes were overblown.

Nobody would be getting drafted, nor was it likely there would even be war, but whether the meme makers’ concerns were genuine was the main question.

Reddy said he loved memes about the draft, and found them all very funny, but also considering the size of the American military, it would be wholly useless. They by-and-large said the fears were largely for the sake of the joke, though none dismissed the possibility of meme makers being earnest.

Yet, the overall verdict about the memes is simply they are meant for fun, regardless of the scenario surrounding them, the effects they have or the ideas they bring up.

Reddy’s personal interpretation about the meme situation summed up this mixing of memetic comedy and terror: “It’s like ‘ha ha ha, boomer,’ and then nuclear war.”