Memes: Not Funny Sometimes

November 9 , 2019 . By Tsion Fisseha

How far can funny pictures on the internet go? And how much of them are socially conscious? The internet has officially become a middle-aged adult. And if the internet is anything like a human being, this is when it should be going through a mid-life crisis.

This piece doesn’t aim to explain the dark side of the internet, nor does it try to scare people out of using it by sharing horror stories. It does, however, evaluate the one aspect of this great invention (best thing since sliced bread, some might say) - the making and the sharing of memes.

Memes are embellished photographs that poke fun at or make jokes of cultural symbols or social ideas. They are often virally transmitted through messaging apps and social media. They are used internationally and make almost everyone crack up in almost every language.

Despite their seemingly useless presence apart from making someone laugh, they also act as an instrument to cope with grief on both an individual and a country level. They are swift by nature and act as lifesavers in moments where it seems like one is drowning.

However, like any other social media phenomenon, it also has a negative side. What this means is that the way these funny little images and pictures are set up, the punch lines are usually a specific part of a community, be it a certain race, certain individuals and political parties.

According to a literature course at the University of Mary on forms of electronic languages, the most popular of these memes usually tend to be racist or sexist. They live up to already set stereotypes and profiling.

This generation’s most common phenomenon has a common understanding. The consensus seems to be that it is okay to poke fun at a certain group of people, because memes are just a “joke.”  But the truth is as long as we keep recognising these stereotypes, they will always be there.

By using memes, it seems that we are also neutralising or naturalising certain social aspects that habitually are frowned upon, such as suicide and death.

Recently, we have had a couple of happenings that have had the chance to be a meme sensation and this, unlike other times, seems to have sparked a resistance or agitation among one group or another who refused to be a part of what in their own words is a “provocative” and racist culture.

Psychologist Paul Thagard explains that memes are not a good way to express extreme thoughts on a cultural situation. This is because they “lump cultural entities together as memes and neglect the variety and complexity of mental representations.

So how far can funny pictures on the internet go? And how much of them are socially conscious? Do we, as a generation of meme followers and sometimes makers, see beyond the few laughs and into the consequences it can and will bring among the groups that are virtually being attacked.

One has to understand that with the same power memes have to bring a community and even a country together, they also have a significant power to dismantle and divide people further than they have ever been before. With great opportunity, comes great responsibility. We should understand that we should be held accountable to the funny images that we pass around that bully from afar.

PUBLISHED ON Nov 09,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 1019]

Tsion Fisseha is a writer and head of foreign languages in the news department at a local TV station. She has been a part of a pan African poetry slam competition representing Ethiopia and is a member of a rock band entitled the Green Manalishi. She can be reached at

Editors' Pick


Fortune news

Drop us a message

Or see contact page