What is the humor of the 21st century? What can it tell us about the modern psyche?
In the “21st century humor” memes we find a bizarre phantasmagoria of vines, youtube videos, static memes, reactions, video games, and a wide variety of others. These memes are impossible to “keep up with”. The imagery is constantly shifting with seemingly no “method to the madness”.
Even the most wild jokes often have a structure to them, a set up and punchline. It becomes clear through these memes that we as a species have moved past such archaic forms. In the words of WB Yeats, things fall apart, the center cannot hold. In the 20th century we witnessed the complete collapse of classical reality—–, around the world any semblance of a shared truth became hollow.
And what remained? Beyond consumerism, beyond mere pleasures there was the maddening thoughts, desires, and drive of man. Producing dada, surrealism, and a thousand other libidinal mediums. Today we have memes. As the 21st Century has been dominated by computers, the internet has been a vector for the collective expression of libido, and as we share no great Symbolic truth, there are millions of starkly contrasting visions and memes. There is no coherent meme canon.
This process, this acceleration of culture and expression into something incomprehensible is exactly the trend Deleuze saw. “21st century humor” memes give us an image of the rhizomatic zoomer unconscious, schizophrenic, fractured into a million pieces, and expressed through strange outbursts.
The susceptibility of young people to this kind of digitally induced mental fracturing may have an ancestor in the “random!” humor of the early 2000’s, something many cringe while thinking of today, but in truth we never overcame this nonsensical dadaist humor, it has only been elevated, shifted, tilted, and ultimately distorted nearly beyond recognition.
One may deny the concept of Nick Land’s techno-accelerationism, but it doesn’t take faith to see the efficiency of Deleuze in the working philosophy of Buzzfeed founder Jonah Peretti, a student of philosophy who specialized in Deleuze, who wrote in his thesis that “The rapid fire succession of signifiers in MTV style media erodes the viewers sense of temporal continuity,” “To use the same words that Jameson uses to describe schizophrenic experiences, the images that flash across the MTV viewers’ retina are ‘isolated, disconnected, discontinuous material signifiers which fail to link up into a coherent sequence.'”
Is this not a perfect description of 21st century humor memes? A constant stream of disconnected videos and images.
Further he writes: “Capitalism needs schizophrenia, but it also needs egos,” “The contradiction is resolved through the acceleration of the temporal rhythm of late capitalist visual culture. This type of acceleration encourages weak egos that are easily formed, and fade away just as easily.”
Here the insidious nature of memes is revealed. Every relatable funny meme, every “feel” you share with a meme, every buzzfeed personality test is not a solid aspect of your personality relates to, but something our psyche contorts to fit, something we adopt for a bit as a pleasant but pestilent guise to ward off the real emptiness of our lives.
21st century humor is far more than a simple meme laughing at how strange things have gotten. It is an omen. Memes effect our psyche in a profound, dangerous, and ultimately unconscious way. Pay attention to the effect that memes have on you, and as always, remember Memes Matter.
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