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The Philosophy of Dark Humour Memes

By Nadia Trudel

Photo Via @yippywhippyart

Dark humour memes are a sub-genre of memes, which as the name suggests, deal with more depressing themes such as Existentialism and Absurdism.

Existentialism, a philosophy popularized post-WWII France by thinkers like Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Albert Camus, states that human beings are born without a purpose. There is no clear purpose to life. Camus said, “the literal meaning of life is whatever you’re doing that prevents you from killing yourself.” 

Existentialism and Absurdism share many ideas and consequently share philosophers such as Kierkegaard and Camus. The absurd refers to the conflict between the human tendency to seek meaning and our inability to do so in a chaotic irrational world.

The Myth of Sisyphus, a philosophical essay by Camus, defines the human condition as absurd because of this aforementioned conflict.

Once we realize our existences are absurd, we can either end our lives or, preferably, accept that life is absurd and move on.

Similar to Existentialism, Absurdism can seem dark and hopeless, but it also has positive and hopeful qualities. It decided that it’s okay that life is absurd and meaningless which can be liberating. We can do what we’d like and, despite its lack of meaning, life can be enjoyed. This is why Absurdism spawned the theatre of the absurd (notable writers include Ionesco and Beckett) and is often found in modern forms of comedy. The Incongruity theory suggests that things are funny when they subvert our expectations. Most of the time we cannot predict what will happen in this world and therefore we can find humour in the unknown. 

What do 20th-century French philosophers have in common with memes made by teenagers? Let’s explore a few examples.

One of the most surprising influences on culture in the Internet age have been memes, defined by Oxford as “An image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users, often with slight variations.” 

This meme uses an image of an anthropomorphic children’s toy with bright colours and begins with the cliché Valentine’s Day poem before subverting expectations with its last lines about suffering from existential dread. This meme is funny due to the conflict between what was expected and what happened which is a perfect example of Absurdism in memes. Besides this, it implicitly subscribes to existentialist and absurdist philosophy because existential dread and existential crises arise when someone does not believe that there is a purpose to life or does not believe in a God or an afterlife (most popular existentialist philosophers were atheists).

The next good question to ask would be what’s the point of dark humour memes? If we examine dark humour memes more closely, we can find a deeper purpose than entertainment value. They make social commentary, cause catharsis by expressing the dark sentiments one is having in a light-hearted manner, and reach others who have had similar experiences. In this light, dark humour memes seem less sinister. Just like Existentialism, they initially come off as dark and pessimistic but ultimately aren’t always so hopeless. Consequently, there is hope, once you realize you have caused your own pain and sabotaged yourself, you will hopefully be able to rectify that and lead a happier life. 

That said, dark humour memes aren’t for everyone, they’re for those with a dark sense of humour and those who are desensitized, which might be why the postmodern generation can appreciate them. Whether you hate them, love them, or don’t understand them, perhaps dark humour memes deserve more appreciation as a product of existentialist, absurdist, and dadaist art. 


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