Humor helps us to manage anxiety and the current pandemic testifies to this notion.
A global pandemic doesn’t make you laugh… or does it?
The coronavirus pandemic has changed our behavior significantly and has caused fear in many, but it has also led to a wave of humor.
Take for example all of the toilet paper memes like Jesus-multiplying-TP-rolls, or the video with the guy who cleans the New York subway turnstile just to jump over it. Or the image of a Bosnian Gastarbeiter (migrant worker) in Germany in his living room with a concrete mixer meme “working from home”. Then there is the universal shouting-woman-cool-cat meme and all the Halal memes (with their equivalents from other religions).
Some of the initial jokes made fun of people and politicians who take the pandemic too lightly, laughing at it, or putting it on the Internet. Most countries have sent jokes to their political leadership, which could be categorized as “emperor without clothes”.
The United States, with its terribly late response to the crown in the middle of an election campaign, naturally gravitated to the jokes linked to American politics and the continuing absurdity of the American President, for example, when he rated the response to the epidemic as a ‘ten’.
Some jokes reveal panic or simulated panic. Most jokes, like in Roberto Benini Life is wonderful, seem to be a way to deal with fear, just like excessive hoarding or buying panic is a way to manage anxiety.
Many of us who have experienced war or who have been refugees have already seen it. A sign of authenticity in any creative endeavor that deals with disasters is that it can be linked to a sense of local humor. The same is true for the coronavirus pandemic.
The endless stream of jokes reveals our cultural makeup and how we are changing. As Swedes with multiple ethnic origins – Bosnian, Pakistani, Turkish, German, Kashmiri – and intimate experiences with many other cultures, we can recognize the styles of humor that are specific to those cultures to which we belong. But we are also global subjects, like many of us these days, and we can see how humor has become more transnational.
Some jokes are so local that they are untranslatable and we would need a try for each to convey their meaning, but most of them, even local, are not terribly difficult to obtain. In many ways, humor is becoming more and more “born translated”.
For example, the following joke is entirely symptomatic of the culture of jealousy in the Balkans but translates across borders. It comes from the saying that Bosnians can forgive themselves anything but success: a man sees that his neighbor has contracted the coronavirus and says: “It is not fair, why did he get it and me no?”
Let’s take a look at some examples from Bosnia, Sweden, Pakistan, Turkey, and the United States to explore the similarities and differences.
In some cultures it is quite common to cut lines or look for ways to skip the wait – which for us living in Sweden where the queue system is written in stone, is quite incredible.
In Mahmutovic’s hometown, decades after the war, they set up queue number machines, but then people jumped on them to get to the machines, then ignored the numbers, continuing to queue .
Meanwhile, in Sweden, a typical meme is a photo of a bus with passengers spaced out with the caption: “In Sweden, we don’t sit close to each other. We are best at avoiding company. This crisis was made for us. “
Although the memes and jokes during this pandemic are a direct satire of our local contexts, they have universal appeal.
Bosnian image Gastarbeiter (migrant worker) with a concrete mixer in his house with the legend “work at home” refers to the fact that generations of people from the Balkans have sought luck in the German paradise, but, although many are now educated and occupy positions in all sectors of German society, the myth (and reality) of Gastarbeiter always comes back to forced labor.
Just as the first wave of Balkan memes was ethnically charged, the jokes and memes from South Asia during the first week were directed to “the others” and “us”. South Asia often descends between Pakistan and India, and the same goes for the crown.
Internet video shows unknown Indian chief claiming donkeys traveling from Pakistan to China were eaten by the Chinese and brought the crown and the remedy is “to go mutra“(” holy “cow urine).
Corona plots in Pakistan were no less absurd. Some memes have stung local imams who, in their sermons, accuse the kuffar ‘ for everything, and this time they said that the crown was a punishment from God – then they were infected themselves.
As Pakistan closed schools and universities for three weeks, jokes about teenage girls and academics calling for universities to reopen appeared because ‘friend (mother) made them do a huge amount of housework.
Turks have also implied stereotypes about mothers and grandmothers and made excessive jokes about the cleanliness craze and how ”nene ‘ (grandmothers) have their backs hooking rolls of toilet paper in this crazy world with massive shortages of toilet paper.
One of the biggest challenges for the Turks was to be safe from ‘shelters‘and’ablas“ kisses, hugs and handshakes!
Speaking of handshakes, TRT World (Turkish Radio and Television Corporation) suggested using the Ertugrul “Eyvallah” style gesture of putting your hand on the heart instead of handshakes. And for us too, no contact until the virus disappears or we kolonya and we continue to sing “OpMe” (“do not kiss” in reference to the Turkish tradition of hand kissing).
Ertugrul’s the open-hearted greeting has become a success all over the world, but especially in Sweden where the last elections, Muslims were highlighted negatively for the practice of some Muslims who avoided shaking hands.
Suddenly, the Prime Minister’s statement, “In Sweden, we shake hands”, was out of fashion, and many Muslims took advantage of Halal memes to combat this type of Islamophobia.
Toilet paper was likely the target of many “creeping sharia” jokes since practicing Muslims cleaned themselves up with water after a number two (be it bidet or Southeast Asia lota).
The hallmark of many Bollywood classics, all those romantic scenes in which lovers touch each other with caution, are now appropriate reminders for these times of physical fasting.
Bollywood’s prescription for the 1950s pandemic that goes around today is “paas nahi ayiye haath na lagaiye, kijye nazara porte porte aey“(don’t come near me, don’t touch me, look at me from afar!).
If these were too ethnically specific, even if they could be translated, the barrage of tweets for #socialdistancingpickuplines was born worldwide: “I’m just a girl 6 feet from a boy, asking her to can -be back on another foot. Thank you. “
a breath of fresh air
Popular culture is always a treasure trove of hilarious characters whose transnational appeal is great even if it is not as interesting as cultural specificities: Chuck Norris slurping on corona; Scarface (Al Pacino) keeping a supply of toilet paper; Rocky (Silvester Stalone) fights in the supermarket saying: “If the other customers don’t kill me, all this flour and sugar will do it”; Michelangelo’s “hand of God” gives Adam a hand sanitizer; and Corona Lisa (Mona Lisa with a gas mask).
All of these memes show that the crown immediately became part of popular culture.
The legendary Shakespeare is said to have written great dramas in quarantine and Newton discovered the seriousness of self-isolation while we overload the Netflix servers!
Corona pushed people to create crooner songs making fun of quarantine life. There is even a list on Spotify where people can add their corona songs.
Despite everything, people have pointed out positive things that have happened during these few months because of the pandemic, such as the improvement of air conditions and cleaner water and people expressing more and more their solidarity across social boundaries.
Culturally specific memes can travel and cross borders successfully, and we are starting to understand and understand what Pakistanis, Bosnians, Swedes or Chinese find funny.
As we finish this article, more humor continues to appear to help us fight our current common enemy: Covid-19. And we certainly hope to be even better prepared for Covid-20, Covid-20 Pro and Covid-20 Lite coming this fall to online stores near you.
Most importantly, we pray that every other emergency – climate change, wars, refugee crises, recession or natural disasters – will help us get closer to each other. And we all hope that a vaccine will soon force the virus to decide: “To be or not to be!”
Disclaimer: The views expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, views and editorial policies of TRT World.
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