Laughing At Our Own Demise
By: Jenna Piotrowicz
October 20th, 2023
This article is part of our Summer 2023 magazine. Click here to read the full edition.
Older generations often have comments about the peculiar humor of Gen Z. Whether it be a completely absurdist image or using dry or dark humor, Gen Z will laugh until tears well up in their eyes.
Although the laugh is light-hearted, some aspects might be darker than one would imagine. Oftentimes, Gen Z is ridiculed for desensitizing serious topics such as 9/11 or suicide. But what is at the root of all this makes these jokes much clearer.
Generation Z has grown up surrounded by horrific historical events. Between 9/11, the 2008 recession, climate change, school shootings, rising sea levels or even a global pandemic, Gen Z has seen it all. It’s easy to assume that Gen Z has likely grown up incredibly numb to such serious situations. With the secondary trauma from parents and a world impacted by such tragedies at such a young age, many have grown up with no heartfelt or direct emotion about the events.
Humor is often used as a coping mechanism for Gen Z, a generation that has blown the cover off and globalized the importance of mental health. Their impact has made the world more aware of people’s feelings. Gen Z’s overly aggressive jokes and self-deprecating remarks may seem alarming to some, but to them, it is a form of expression. Phrases like “I literally look like trash today” and “Kill me now” are just some responses that frequent Gen Z’s common language.
With the world burning and melting right beneath the surface and the economy falling apart, something like dropping a coffee on the ground might gain a response from a Gen Z of “OMG, I’m literally gonna off myself.” Harsh but meaningful, these jokes and comments express Gen Z’s numbness towards aggressive and violent behaviors. Without dark humor, many don’t have any other way to express how grim the world’s circumstances are.
An interview with Michigan State student Ally Gilbreath furthered this idea. Gilbreath said, “I feel like our humor is our escape. It’s the best we can do to cope with the world we have inherited, and having self-deprecating or dark humor is just another way of getting through the day. I’d say it even allows you to connect to other people.”
“Absurdism and Generation Z Humor,” a study in the Journal of Student Research (JSR), stated, “much of their generated content online reflects nihilism and existentialism—both ideas parallel to absurdity in the idea that life has no meaning but the individual is a free agent.”
The concept of absurd humor is one that a high percentage of Generation Z is in touch with. The more incomprehensible the image, the funnier it gets. Instagram account @lolhylian, which has 487,000 followers, is dedicated to posting this kind of humor. Putting it simply, half a million people acquaint themselves with these absurdist images daily.
This phenomenon reflects many beliefs that Gen Z holds, including the mindset of thinking that life is meaningless and humans live on a floating rock in a never-ending expanse. And hey, maybe it doesn’t matter if a student can’t finish that assignment since they could get hit by a planet-killing asteroid tomorrow.
The study in JSR also found that “absurdist humor does, in fact, influence humor rankings for Generation Z students as compared to less absurd content,” meaning that in the eyes of Gen Z, the more meaningless, the better.
Many workplaces and companies find this humor inappropriate and too dark, but when appealing to Gen Z, using these humor tactics is the best way to sell a product or advertise a business. This humor is realistic and transparent, and many Gen Z consumers are more likely to buy something when they connect with the selling tactic.
For example, many major companies and organizations now have official TikTok pages. It has become a common humor tactic for these company accounts to comment on viral TikToks, even if unrelated to their product. These comments gain massive likes, replies and laughs from users. This form of branding is something that Gen Z connects with, and relates to.
Gen Z humor has taken hold of social media, especially TikTok. By liking certain videos, the algorithm may even send Gen Z savvy users to feeds such as “Deeptok,” a For You Page which gives users absurdist humor and content.
Humor is an easy way to relate to an audience while still expressing emotions. The sense of escapism evoked from expressing themselves through comedy may keep them going, even if they genuinely struggle with mental illness and serious conditions. They are poking fun at a real part of their lives and, again, expressing themselves.
An article from The Current’s 2020 Winter edition magazine, titled “Passing Down Trauma to Kids: A Personal Essay” by Kate Snider, addresses this trauma and the trauma cycle, stating that “[her] story, among many others, seems to demonstrate that parents can, intentionally or unintentionally, pass their own childhood trauma to their children. While this ripple effect can extend generations, it is completely possible for it to begin with [one’s] immediate family.”
Snider also states, “While growing up, we believe our parents are invincible. Parents show us the difference between right and wrong, and slowly their parental knowledge begins to become our own. Everything they do is a model to replicate.” This occurs when adults are parenting children after experiencing horrible tragedies and historical events. They pass on that worry, that anxiety, but it is not the child’s own.
But humor can be made one’s own. And oftentimes, Gen Z turns to this to cope with the lingering worries left behind from their childhood environment.
So although they may be dark jokes and self-deprecating remarks, society can recognize that the factors that nurtured Gen Z’s childhoods cause them to feel both everything and nothing all at once, resulting in humor that may represent both nothing and deep emotion simultaneously.
Because no matter how dark Gen Z humor may be, nothing is darker than the past, present and future that has been laid out for their generation.
Jenna Piotrowicz is a senior majoring in professional and public writing, aspiring to be a writer or editor in her future. In her free time, she enjoys watching movies, TV shows and working on her own screenplays, hoping to create the next big feature film.