Humor can relieve anxiety; it can also stoke racial tensions or spread misinformation. So, the answer isn't simple.
A global outbreak that has killed thousands of people doesn’t seem like a likely source of humor, but the internet can’t stop cracking jokes about coronavirus. Since late last year, when China first alerted the world to the novel coronavirus, jokes, puns, and memes about it have been spreading even faster and wider than the virus itself. It doesn’t seem to matter that the virus that causes Covid-19 is now a far more tangible threat to English-speaking meme makers than it was three months ago. If anything, as anxiety and outbreak preparation and infection rates have increased, so have the attempts at humor.
The memes are almost too numerous to typify. Certain products associated with coronavirus have become memes, most notably face masks. As people have run out of masks—which, incidentally, the surgeon general says you don’t need and urges you not to buy—they’ve turned to DIY options so bizarre and instantly internetty that it’s difficult to tell who is serious and who is memeing. People are making masks out of fabric, sure, but also bra cups and giant, winged sanitary pads. In Australia, coronavirus panic has led to mass hoarding of toilet paper to the point where it has created a genuine shortage for some companies, which Aussies are already memetically mocking. Some memes are standard-issue internet fatalism, while others poke fun at the lengths people go to avoid someone coughing. Some are just puns: Corona the beer is having a rough go of it this year, as virus memes have caused its stock prices to plummet. Others are just jokes. “Yeah, no, sorry,” satirical singer Al Yankovic tweeted. “Not gonna do ‘My Corona.’”