Millions of Americans are under self-quarantines. College students complete coursework online. Full-time working parents navigate working from home while homeschooling their children. Many have been laid off and are left with no work at all. College and professional sports’ seasons are postponed or canceled. The nation polarizes on yet another issue: is it too soon to laugh about COVID-19?
If you open Instagram, it only takes a couple clicks and scrolls to find memes about chicken and toilet paper hoarders, population control and 2020 not passing a vibe check. With a few more clicks, the comments to these posts reveal a flood of individuals lambasting those who dare laugh during these chaotic, uncertain times.
An anonymous Instagram user posted to her story, “Y’all need to start taking this seriously. My step-dad lost his job and now me and my family don’t know how we’ll make it through the month. None of this is funny.”
While it is agreeable that there’s nothing funny about a family losing their main source of income, personal anecdotes like these should not dictate what can and cannot be funny to others.
According to the Washington Post, “more than 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week” as of April 2. On top of that, nurses and doctors all over the country fight to save the lives of those who have contracted coronavirus with insufficient supplies, grocers and other essential workers interact with hundreds of people a day, and scientists race to find a cure to fight the projected 100,000 to 240,000 death toll. We’re all scared.
We all need a good laugh.
There is, of course, a fine line between a joke and racism, or between a joke and endangering the welfare of others. There is nothing funny about dressing in traditional Chinese attire and holding a sign that reads “Corona Time.” There is nothing funny about licking the most sought-after hygiene products on the shelves at stores. There is nothing funny about saying, “I’m here for a good time, not a long time,” before joining thousands of other students for spring break in Florida.
Racially-charged jokes and jokes that put others in danger aside, the point of comedy is to, in the words of Allison Pitinii Davis, laugh in the face of “a world insistent upon your pain;” to find absurdity in seriousness; to give laughter when life demands tears.
We are in uncharted territory, and we will be for a while. It will get worse before it gets better, so we must take precautions to prevent the spread of this virus; we must self-quarantine, only go out for essential travel, wash our hands and respect the six-foot rule. We must also nurture our humanity and allow ourselves to laugh so as not to kneel down and submit to our fears and worries entirely.
Life is an intricate balance between happiness and sadness, good and evil and light and dark. We need one to have the other. To only focus on happiness, good and light is blind optimism. To only focus on sadness, evil and darkness is blind pessimism. It’s why medieval courts employed jesters, it’s why Shakespeare’s tragedies had acts of comic relief, and it’s why we post memes about COVID-19.
Email Lukas Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org