Cracking Up Over Covid-19: Innocent or Insensitive?

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By Emma Sacco

This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 1 of VARSITY News.


Well, it’s happened. The coronavirus has finally managed to find its way into South Africa, and as of last week, the Western Cape. While there has been an influx of posts suggesting various safety precautions, there has also been a surge in memes and comedic videos surrounding the topic of Covid-19. With the number of deaths caused by the newly-fledged virus climbing high into the thousands, we beg the question as to whether the dark humour that continues to fill our social media pages is just a way of making light of a bad situation, or if it has become an insensitive method of avoiding reality.

Dark humour has always been an approach used to understand and distance ourselves from things that scare us most, particularly death. I’m sure we have all come across jokes relating to HIV/AIDS, Cancer, Ebola. You name it, a disaster occurs and there will be someone behind a keyboard coming up with the punchline.

Jokes about universities being quarantined and using Covid-19 as an excuse to stay in bed have become rife on Twitter and Instagram, reaching our very own UCTJustKidding Instagram account. Many social media users seem to believe the jokes and memes innocent enough, with South Africans simply joining in on the laughs now that the virus has reached our shores.

Second-year UCT student Peter Oki says, “I don’t think [the memes] are anymore offensive than making jokes about TB, malaria or the flu. As far as I know, those illness have similar, if not greater, mortality rates. So, I guess if people draw the line at Corona then the flu shouldn’t be joked about either.”

However, along with all these jokes and quips have been the occasional TikTok video or Instagram post expressing disgust at the insensitivity of the humour around the coronavirus, pointing out that people have lost their loved ones and their lives because of it.

An avid UCTJustKidding follower holds the opinion that when making dark-humoured jokes it is essential to analyse your audience first she states, “You wouldn’t make a joke or share a meme about cancer with someone who lost a family member because of [it], so don’t do it to someone who has been directly affected by the coronavirus”. With this in mind, many people seem to agree that if a joke is made to simply relieve the tension of our morbid reality, and is not made to maliciously offend or upset anyone, then it’s pretty much harmless.

While everyone is playing the jester when it comes to the coronavirus, making jokes can be a seemingly innocent way of handling a frightening predicament. However, it is also important to consider the reality of the virus and the seriousness of its effect on people worldwide. Having a good laugh every now and then to relieve the tension seems to be the adopted coping mechanism for South Africans, and hopefully will continue to be harmless as we enter an age of hand sanitiser and fashionable face masks.


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