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COVID-19 Humor: Memes across gender, generations and national languages
This paper systematically analyzes how psychological and linguistic humor categories such as incongruity resolution and ambient affiliation are applied in memes about Covid-19 and how the topics chosen differ among young, middle-aged and older generations. Humor in general is known to be a subjective matter shared by people who experience the same social, political, historic and cultural worlds. In the case of the pandemic, some of these dimensions are shared by people of different ages, but they are experienced differently on one hand, some cultural practices differ and the media (social networks, series and TV shows) consumed and used by the different generations diverges. This paper thus sets out to investigate the different linguistic, topical and psychological aspects which lead to a different understanding of what makes a Covid-19 meme funny among different ages through a statistical analysis of about 800 memes which were shared by people of the Generations Z, Y, X, Baby Boomers and Silent Generation in Germany.
Online humor can be a constructive way of dealing with psychologically and socially difficult situations. The pandemic affected a rise in the way all generations used social media applications to communicate during the social distancing and lockdown phases. Psychological research revealed how different psychological humor types were preferred among different generations. Linguistic investigations revealed how different linguistic types such as multimodal voicing, creative reappropriation and incongruity resolution are prevalent humorous features of memes in general and Covid-19 memes specifically. The key question remains how humorous Covid-19 memes and items shared via social media differ in such linguistic and psychological humor types across the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers and Generations X, Y and Z. To elucidate the conundrum what it is that some memes are considered funny to younger generations but not to older generations and the other way around, a corpus was compiled through a convenience sample. Around 240 German senior citizen students and students of English submitted demographic data and memes sent by friends, parents and grandparents during the pandemic which were imported into a qualitative data analysis software (MAXQDA 20). The corresponding demographic factors (age, sex, language, date sent) were annotated to each meme. In a second step, the memes were annotated firstly, according to psychological humor types and secondly, with linguistic humor types. Overall, almost 600 memes were coded with the youngest participant aged 13 and the oldest aged 93. The preliminary findings show that there are significant differences in the psychological humor categories in the usage of memes across generations. Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation used more affiliative humor in the Covid-19 memes, while Generations X applied the most aggressive humor and Generation Z the most self-deprecating memes. The linguistic humor types differ significantly as well: Generation Z applied personification and creative reappropriation as humor type significantly more than Baby Boomers. Further, the references to voicing, creative reappropriation applied to video games, cartoon characters and Netflix series which are unknown to older generations. All generations shared memes with incongruity resolution as humor type. This study therefore sheds light on how humor is used in memes and macros via social media apps varies across generations and might hint to possible lower response reactions between the generational groups.