Online Humor, Popular Culture & Dadaism

From memory, it was a bright Saturday morning at approximately 9:30 am while completing my routine morning social media consumption that I came across an overexposed and overly saturated picture of a desk chair. The picture contained no text and had no accompanying caption. “Why is this so funny?”, I asked myself while laughing, nearly to the point of tears. Upon thinking about it further, it occurred to me that maybe that question was the reason it was funny. Has my generation completely deconstructed and formed a new form of humor? Or do we just engage in anything as a means to escape our current society’s hellscape? I find the truth to be nestled in the middle of the two ideas.

My generation has taken on a very crucial role in the age of the internet. Anyone born in the first 5 years of the 90’s has a shared experience of operating and navigating through the early versions of the web as we watched it go from nothing to something, very fast. No generation before or after us will be able to understand it, whether they can still remember a time before the Internet or can’t imagine a time without it, because we were the first generation to grow up with it as young teenagers. The childhoods and early teenage years of people our age coincided with the precipice of a complete global technology shift. We experienced all the social media sites as they grew and evolved, desktop sites to apps, bulletin posts to status updates, various challenges, and trends, and I think it’s still too early to see the lasting impact of these sites. I wouldn’t say that our role as voracious consumers was more important than the role of those who created the sites, but it is important to note that our generation is responsible for the creation of online humor as we know it and is also responsible for the ways it continues to evolve. Our relationship with the internet is symbiotic; we are the internet as much as the internet is us.

As I grow older, I’ve realized that a lot of my peers find solace in very obscure escapisms such as online humor because they provide a fleeting reprieve from an economic and social system that greatly benefits from our time and bodies. I’ve noticed one thing to be true: big corporations can’t seem to monetize, exploit and profit off of our Dada-esque humor. It’s something that seems so hard for older generation folk to grasp, relate to, or replicate. We’re all in on the joke and they aren’t; it’s exclusive to us. If there is one thing we love its exclusive access.

Dadaism refers to the 1920’s art movement to which the term was first attributed which consisted of various forms of rejection of the woes of society at the time. It is relevant in our current popular culture lexicon because we once again find ourselves fighting back against the same forces the artists of the time were: nationalism, capitalism, racism, misogyny, and war. Most of the austere messaging has remained the same, changing only the name of the countries we’re at war with, the name of the companies exploiting us, the laws used to disenfranchise minorities, especially Black people, and the forms of media we are using to express our frustrations.

While social media has fundamentally transformed the way we share information and communicate, I’ve also witnessed it turn my subculture to popular culture, consistently being sucked dry and stripped of all complexities and nuances. Anything to make it simple, easy to understand and altered for palatability, thus making it marketable and digestible for mass consumption for all Craig and Sally’s alike. Online culture is the one thing they can’t have because they cannot understand it. They headhunt from the Ivy League schools looking for young, often white marketers to drive their brands into the New Age but even these generational insiders are failing. They log into their social media accounts and try opaquely to be aggressively relatable, often exploiting and misusing AAVE or queer language in the process, and we’re tired. Tired of blood-sucking businessmen and corporations trying to relate to young people, especially the underprivileged, the poor, and the Black community.

Our new developing sense of humor could really be a defense mechanism to fight off this corporate greed. Not everything should be monetized, repackaged, and sold back to us in the form of advertisements in an attempt to sell us more shit we don’t need. Has popular culture grown into a capitalistic money machine? Has it always been? Is subversion of capitalism in pop culture possible? My real question is this: are we collectively aware of what is being done to us? All our thoughts, dreams, and desires are for sale, our online identities catalogued and marketed to. Why aren’t more people my age writing about this in short form or for small publications? I may not be looking hard enough and that’s usually the case. There is so much content readily available but only clickbait pays the bills. Substance, wit, and care have given way to cheap replication and dissemination, to shock-value and edge. No one wants to read anymore, they want to listen. It requires less energy and is far less intimate.

We may also be too distracted by the 24-hour news cycle to even care about pop culture. We’ll buy or otherwise engage with anything to distract us from our harsh reality, anything to comfort us in times of trauma. Thus our defense mechanism, our collective attempt to subvert capitalistic influence in our culture and our lives, has bonded us together. In the midst of a global pandemic, it’s now Wednesday and another Black man was murdered by the police. His name was George Floyd. Rest in power.

Originally written and dated on 5-27-20 and posted to Medium here.

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