Opinion: Your Coronavirus Jokes Aren’t Cute or Funny

Lauren Kirksey, Opinion Writer

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It seems like 2020 had just barely begun before news of the coronavirus caused widespread panic. Originating in Wuhan, China, the disease was officially named coronavirus disease 2019 (abbreviated COVID-19) by the World Health Organization on February 11. The disease has affected over 79,000 people and resulted in over 2,500 deaths, 23 of which occurred outside of mainland China, adding to fears of a global pandemic. 

Coronavirus outbreak map as of Feb. 27, 2020. Courtesy of the CDC.

Amid travel concerns, health scares, and a general sense of panic, numerous jokes and memes spawned by the coronavirus began popping up on the internet and social media. One of the first I saw was the image of a Corona beer bottle made to look like a bacteriophage. While humor might help some people cope with stressful or anxiety-inducing situations such as the possible threat of disease, many of the coronavirus memes are made in poor taste and contain ethnocentric and racist messages: one features an image of Lisa Simpson standing in front of a presentation screen that reads, “The coronavirus won’t last long because it was made in China”, while another, also featuring a screencap from The Simpsons, suggests that the virus is nature’s way of getting back at China for pollution and CO2 emissions. People of Asian descent, even those who are not Chinese, have also spoken up about facing discriminatory jokes and accusations of being carriers of the coronavirus.

We’ve seen jokes like these in the past with cases like the H1N1 “swine flu”, Zika, and Ebola viruses. While it’s inevitable that people will poke fun at serious issues, especially in the age of social media where we can reach wide audiences while maintaining a certain degree of anonymity, it’s pretty disheartening to see the lack of sympathy for actual coronavirus victims and their families. No matter the source of the coronavirus, which according to the CDC has been linked to bats, cats, and camels but remains unconfirmed, it should go without saying that no one asks to get sick, and making memes about bat soup or the people of China somehow getting what they “deserve” only spreads misinformation and prejudice. 

Insensitive jokes also trivialize the efforts of those who are working to manage the coronavirus and report accurate information. Dr. Li Wenliang, who tried to blow the whistle on the virus in its early days back in December, was silenced by police and has since died from the virus in the Wuhan hospital where he worked. While Wuhan authorities should be criticized for their handling of the situation, the average people of China are not to blame for the coronavirus outbreak. 

Even weeks after the coronavirus was first reported, jokes and memes continue to pop up on our social media feed and even in day-to-day conversation and probably will for some time. The next time you see or hear someone making a joke at the victims’ expense, it might do some good to ignore it, scroll past, or remind others to have some sympathy for those affected.


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