Our culture today is confusing yet intricate. Internet memes are an interesting idea all on their own— everybody around the world collectively decides that something is a joke, and it becomes a joke. The reasoning behind it? Seemingly little. Predictability? Not high. Yet eventually, everybody finds it humorous. And finally, the joke gets woven into people's speech, giving it a new level of funniness— now it has personal, real-life relevancy. The funny post has become a meme and is now ingrained in our culture.
This is all well and good when we're talking about funny dogs or song lyrics, but what happens when memes get a bit more serious and are more than just a joke, impacting a lot more of our culture than just our language?
A recent influx of memes has made passive suicidal thoughts (not actively seeking to kill oneself yet still being willing to throw oneself into danger to die) into a bit of a joke— people make jokes about wanting to die, asking others to kill them and trying to do so themselves. Most of the people making these jokes don't understand the actual feelings that would lead one to believe these things, but the fact that suicide is now a meme that leads other people to laugh at expression of feelings that might actually be serious will certainly have a bad impact on our culture into the future.
Yet the most prevalent, annoying example of these "bad memes" is the idea of pettiness being funny, quirky and celebrated overall. And perhaps this is even more culturally significant because the impact comes not just from the joke's existence but from the fact that everybody encourages the meme's "petty perpetrator" on. Originally these were jokes at oneself, laughing at how ridiculous and extreme their own behavior was. Now? People are genuinely finding it funny and seeing pettiness as a desirable trait.
It's not. It is frustrating to deal with somebody who is naturally petty and is making a big deal out of nothing and refusing to compromise, but it is exponentially more annoying to deal with somebody who is laughing and proud of themselves for being that way. You're not going to talk to me for a week because I refused to buy you Chick-Fil-A? Why do you think this is funny?!
Pettiness is not and should not be viewed as a positive trait. It's stubborn and uncompromising and immature, and it was never meant to be a good thing to have. The original jokes were laughing at themselves for being so ridiculous that it was comical—"haha guys, don't be like me! But since I AM like this, let's laugh!"—not as a model for future behavior.
But even more concerning and much more relevant, cultural jokes and idiosyncrasies should not change an entire generation's behavior the way that these jokes have. While this current trend is just making disagreements more annoying, the idea of cultural control in this way is kind of terrifying—making suicide into a joke is today's issue, but even worse, if a very targeted type of joke really took off, who's to say that an entire culture's ideology towards the targeted group would not change?
Jokes are fine when they are just that—jokes. But once they pervade all areas of culture—clothes, music and television, beyond the music and social media jokes that are widespread—they have a very strong impact on more than merely our sense of humor. Just because something is "funny" does not mean it needs to be adopted as a character trait, especially something that has been viewed as negative for a very long time.