How We Crossed the Line

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Because I work with young people and have a twenty-something aged daughter, I’m privy to social media culture someone of my generation wouldn’t otherwise be aware of. Most of it is fresh, funny, and gives me insight that helps me connect with my staff and with my students. This knowledge helps me understand in some part what young people are going through, how COVID robbed them of important parts of their lives that other generations might be a bit too dismissive of, feeling that their experiences—missing prom, graduation, the college experience—couldn’t be as important as what other generations struggled with during the pandemic.

Given my empathy for Gen Z, you might find it easy to understand my dismay—no, horror—at the distasteful and disrespectful memes and jokes generated the minute news of the missing submersible Titan, was released to the information highway and that so many young people found them to be so highly amusing. I won’t make general accusations as that would be unfair. I know enough Gen Z-ers to realize that not all of them did, and certainly, the slurs can’t all be blamed on one generation.

Jessica Gelt writes, “The exploitative coverage of the death and terror unfolding in real time has only been compounded by the public’s reaction on TikTok, Twitter and Instagram. Gleeful best describes the tenor of many posts — which include making fun of the video game controller used to pilot the Titan, laughing at the billionaires inside the submersible, jokes about the effects of lack of oxygen on the human psyche or substituting fart sounds for the knocking sounds that rescuers apparently heard underwater.”

Even Amazon was subjected to troll-like behavior and inappropriate jokes:

Image courtesy of the India Times

Social media bullying has been the topic of discussion long enough that we should be seeing improvement, not this deterioration into the dregs of disgusting human behavior, making light of a terrible tragedy and having fun at the expense of those who’ve died and their families.


The “eat the rich” sentiment makes the answer pretty obvious. Have we become so petty, so small-minded, that we feel the need to attack unjustifiably simply because these people have, had, money? Is it because we question the behavior of the wealthy and maybe feel they don’t deserve such riches? While we may have our opinions on the behavior or character of the rich or anyone for that matter, most of us manage to go about our daily lives refraining from attacking them so cruelly.

Image courtesy of We Got This Covered

There has been mention of “gallows humor” in reference to the tweets and memes, so I did a little research to determine the legitimacy of the term and whether it would even apply here.

Image courtesy of imgflip and ChrisEtchells

Here is the distinction according to James Belarde:

“Offensive humor obtains its effect by shocking and creating discomfort with little concern for whom the joke might be bullying. Gallows humor, on the other hand, is typically more nuanced. While it can be shocking and uncomfortable, it isn’t necessarily seeking to do this, and certainly not at anyone’s expense.”

And even though gallows humor is dark and generally deals with topics such as death and dying, there is a line, a line we managed to avoid crossing in the past, even coming up with a suitable comeback for anyone crass enough to joke inappropriately and too recently about a catastrophic event:

“Too soon.”

Mel Brooks is quoted as saying, “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die,” but Mel Brooks didn’t write this quip as a search and rescue team was scouring the sewer for this person or the day after they found the remains.

Too soon.

And then there is the other side of dark humor, the other definition. The one that allows those personally living and surviving in the darkest and most intolerable times an opportunity to laugh, making these situations if not tolerable, bearable for one more day.

In Night, 1986 Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel wrote of his own personal experiences: “In Treblinka, where a day’s food was some stale bread and a cup of rotting soup, one prisoner cautions a fellow inmate against gluttony. ‘Hey Moshe, don’t overeat. Think of us who will have to carry you.’”

Antonin Obrdlik defines gallows humor as “an index of strength or morale on the part of oppressed peoples… it has historically been associated with the persecuted and condemned.”

I’ve struggled to find an answer for this current behavior: the memes, the tasteless jokes, this ill-treatment of those who are grieving because certainly, most of us are not “persecuted and condemned.”

And it saddens me greatly to find that there isn’t one.

Image courtesy of Moms Need to Know

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