July 28, 2012 § 1 Comment
Over at the Atlantic, the lovely Kate Miltner (here she is on ROFLcon III’s “Adventures in Aca-meme-ia” panel, alongside myself, Jordan Lefler and Patrick Davidson) has written a very thoughtful article about the more upsetting macros/memes to emerge from last week’s shootings in Aurora, CO. Speaking of recent memetic output on Memegenerator, Miltner writes:
Over the past week, the site’s usual jokes about video games, forum culture, and bodily functions became interspersed with a darker humor: images that poked fun at the Aurora massacre. This trend surfaced across several different memes (Success Kid, Aaand It’s Gone, Y U NO, Condescending Wonka), but the tone was the same: irreverent and insensitive, mocking the victims as well as the crime itself. In one Condescending Wonka macro, the anonymous author snarked, “You shot at 71 people and only killed 12? Glad I don’t have your gamertag.”
In the face of a senseless tragedy like Aurora, such seemingly contemptuous humor is hard to understand: How can people be so glib about something so terrible?
Though we may think of these memes as something birthed to us by the Internet, this genre of humor predates contemporary online culture and stretches back alongside the rise of media that expose us to tragedies to which we have no direct connection. According to folklorist Bill Ellis, “disaster humor” is an important part of a response to tragedy, particularly the type of tragedy that becomes a media spectacle. In the aftermath of the 1986 Challenger disaster, such humor was common, and often verged on brutal: One of the most popular jokes to emerge after that event was, “What was the last thing that went through Christa McAuliffe’s mind? The control panel.”
Miltner goes on to discuss the ways in which the internet –and its constituent culture– has affected the production and dissemination of disaster humor. About midway through, she considers the thorny relationship between trollish and more “legitimate” (for lack of a better term) forms of subversive engagement, and quotes me as saying that “while some of these images might be offensive or upsetting to some, they’re created to make a social or political point, and not necessarily to offend,” i.e. to “merely” troll (of course there’s no such thing as “merely” trolling, but that’s a conversation for another day).
Seriously, go read the article.
Also, as a point of possible trollish interest, via my best, brightest and most shadowy of all possible consultants: the above Wonka image can actually be traced back to trollish engagement with the Pike Rive Mine collapse in 2010, making that particular sentiment as old as RIP trolling itself (well, 2010-2011′s wave of Facebook memorial page trolling).