On JAN 3, President Donald Trump ordered a drone strike in Baghdad to assassinate Iranian Quds Force General Qasem Soleimani. Naturally, the Iranian government responded with threats against the US., and the US. swiftly reciprocated. The internet watched in horror as existing tensions between the two states flared in full view of the public via Twitter. Immediately, the terms #WW3 and #Draft were trending nationwide. After exploring these trends, though, you discover that the internet had an interesting reaction to international insecurity: coping with memes.
Memes about draft-dodging and fighting in World War III flurried around social media in the weeks following Soleimani’s assassination. There seemed to be two opposing teams when it came to WW3 memes: the primarily Gen Z meme-makers and sharers, and others who thought making fun of war was revolting and inappropriate. Because of the innately comedic nature of memes, this controversy has been painted in black-and-white; if you make or share a meme about WW3, you are insensitive and must not understand the gravity of the situation. Yet it is much more nuanced than that.
Memes have become a form of expression, therapy and community for so many young people online. This raises a larger point: memes are being used to cope with crises, especially by the younger generations. At the same time, the majority of the makers and sharers of the memes are very much aware of the gravity of the situation. They understand that people will die, blood will be shed, money will be spent, lives will be changed and cities could crumble. That is precisely why the memes are so popular. Nobody (or at least very few people) think swar and its effects are funny. But memes, be they toxic or wholesome, still attract attention and provoke cultural and political discussion. They have incited necessary dialogue and awareness, albeit through rather unconventional means, and are very effective in encouraging discourse.
Memes have also become a strange new form of resistance. Through viral content, ideas and concepts are being spread at rapid speed. Those who would have otherwise not known or been ambivalent about a topic are now exposed to the idea in a way that is simple and easy to digest. So many people, especially younger generations, use these platforms to spread and criticize larger political and social concepts. Having millions of people sharing memes about the war is better than no conversation at all. At the end of the day, it was the memes encouraging and provuding space for people to speak up against the war, to protest and to otherwise not stay silent in the face of unnecessary violence.