Coping or Just Joking? Generation Z’s Use of Memes


Toni Glover, Writer

“All your generation does is make memes,” an older adult might say, probably pronouncing the word “memes” as “mee-mees.” At this response, a teenager will most likely reply with the iconic phrase, “OK boomer.” Sometimes, though, one can’t help but think: Is that all we do? Are we just using recycled jokes as a way to distract us from the bigger issues at hand?

The answer to these questions is yes and no. A majority of those who are a part of Generation Z seem to use memes as a coping mechanism. The definition of a coping mechanism is a strategy used to help someone deal with a stressful situation. In a survey of high schoolers ranging from freshman to seniors, 65.1% said they would consider memes to be a coping mechanism. Not all memes, however, are made to help us cope. For example, at the beginning of 2019, the internet went crazy over a picture of an egg, and to kick off 2020, people began setting their profile pictures and Lego Star Wars icons. This, of course, is just lighthearted memeing (yes, that is a word) that become events to reminisce about as the years go by. Where it becomes a coping mechanism is when people begin to create memes related to serious issues. 

The threat of World War III is just one of the relevant and prominent examples of Gen-Z making memes about potentially serious issues. In the same survey, students were asked if it were okay to joke about serious issues and 63% said it “depends.” Contrary to popular belief, teenagers often make jokes, even those with dark humor, while still knowing when said joke crosses the line. In fact, stepping over those boundaries causes many social media influencers to become prey to cancel culture. Even some teenagers draw the line when it comes to the use of WWIII memes. Throughout the survey, multiple respondents described World War III memes as “stupid” to “insensitive” to simply not caring about them.

This is when the main question comes back into play. Are we using these memes simply as a distraction? Yes, simply because they help to get rid of some of the tension these problems create. However, the answer is also no because if something distracts you, it “diverts your attention” from something. Memes distract us from feeling the underlying stress these issues cause, but it also makes us more aware of the things going on around us. Aaliyah Coe, a junior says, “we joke constantly through social media but at the same time we are talking about these issues and raising awareness, even if it is through a meme.” Bree Soto, another junior, says that memes are “taking place of satirical works [and] books.”

Those born in older generations might see memes as apathetic or a sign of ignorance. Aside from what it may seem, memes are often used to bond with teenagers far and wide. All of us constantly feel the weight of life on our shoulders and through these memes, we find others who are trying to cope with the same issues. With the right amount of moderation, Generation Z has created a new way for us to cope with our unpredictable world.