Column: of yodelers and Ugandan Knuckles — the humor of Gen Z

There’s a popular meme making the rounds lately: a late aughts cat meme is juxtaposed with its 2018 counterpart, both images equally understated yet comical in their own ways.

The similarities end there. While the 2008 image, complete with ‘Impact’ typeface and an absurdly simple premise, has an easily discernible punchline (Why is a cat asking for human food? Why is cheeseburger spelled wrong? Cats!), the 2018 image takes a more subtle approach. A half-limbed cat strides elegantly along a sidewalk, its paws curled into the OK emoticons, in order to exemplify that you is, indeed, walking. There’s nothing explicitly, or even implicitly funny about the picture. It’s just funny.

The past few years have marked the rise of a particular brand of humor unique to our generation. It typically arrives in the form of obscure references, inexplicable images, and six second videos with cult-like followings.

It’s unclear how such humor should be classified. Dadaist? Minimalist? Surrealist? All seem to fit the bill, yet none quite capture the essence of ‘cracking open a cold one with the boys’ or ‘don’t talk to me or my son ever again.’ This wave of humor appears to be founded on a generation-wide understanding of seemingly nothing. It’s almost easier to categorize recent trends by the qualities they lack rather than what they have.

Due to the absence of actual content, relatability has reached its peak. This generation thrives off fast-paced, random humor, making a lack of meaning the only commonality. The inherent nonsensical nature means teens can yell ‘same’ at their water bottles and everyone understands. A statement is made not with the punchline but with the fact that there isn’t a punchline.

What exactly drives the seemingly absurdist humor of our newest generation? Might it be the economic collapse of the late aughts, pushing teens to appreciate grounded, simple humor? Is it the increased prevalence of topical social issues such as feminism, racism, and LGBTQ+ matters, driving Gen Z-ers to address these themes with humor? Are memes and Vines simply an attempt to mask our nation’s turbulent undercurrents, to make light of our bleak worldviews?

We may never know. For now, if the teacher isn’t here in here in 15 minutes, we’re legally allowed to leave.  

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