Pandemic culture: the function and use of corona memes

Lisbeth Klastrup

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Pandemic culture: the function and use of corona memes
With the spread of the Covid19 pandemic in 2020-2021, and the lockdowns that ensued, a huge number of covid19 memes, referred to as “corona memes”, flooded the internet. This paper presents an analytical framework with which to think about corona memes and their cultural impact in a COVID19 context. It discusses 500+ select Australian and Danish corona memes, looking for differences and similarities in meme communication in two countries at each end of their world, and with vastly different governmental politics in relation to the containment of the pandemic.

Corona memes as crisis memes
Digital memes are often described as light-weight cultural products, but we can also understand them as means to convey the experience of specific challenging individual or political conditions (see f.i. Rintel 2013, Gal et al 2015, Ask & Abidin 2018, Chagas et al 2019), as “crisis memes”. Thus, corona memes can be thought of as a vernacular public conversation (Milner 2018), taking place both in and about “the corona age”. The main research questions this paper will deal with are: Which topics and themes emerged as popular among the corona memes shared in 2020? How do these memes reflect and comment on respectively shared global and local, personal experiences in a time of crisis?

Method and analysis
For the paper, 500+ memes collected on meme hubs on Facebook, Instagram and Reddit while lockdowns unfolded in 2020 and 2021, will be analysed. Using popularity (e.g upvotes, shares and likes) as guideline for the sampling, memes were manually collected throughout 2020 and 2021. Building on the previous work on “crisis memes” presented above, as well as the analytical framework for meme studies provided by Shifman (2013) and Tosca and Klastrup (2019), these memes are currently being coded, looking at stance (critical or affirmative of official politics), orientation (reflection on personal experience or state of the world), locality (references to local politics and culture), collective identity (creating community through shared life experiences); and global perspective (reference to perceived shared common experiences).

A first study of the meme samples reveals that themes such as: working at home; being “out of school”; the experience of restrictions and other peoples’ restriction responses; local press conferences; the behaviour of specific authority figures (such as the Head of State or the Chief Health Officer); 2020 as an annus horribilis; one’s own behaviour at home; the experience of specific national holidays and events in the shadow of the pandemic; and ironic commentary of covid19-related graphs appear as popular meme content in both countries. The memes seem to serve both as commentary on one’s own response to the pandemic, as well as social and political commentary on restrictions and political decisions. In the presentation of the paper, I will dive further into what the differences and likenesses between memes used in the two countries can tell us about the potential function and impact of memes in a global crisis.

Translated title of the contributionPandemisk kultur: funkitionen og brugen af corona memes
Original languageEnglish
Publication date30 Sept 2022
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2022
EventECREA 2022 Rethink/Impact - Aarhus University & DMJX, Aarhus, Denmark
Duration: 19 Oct 202222 Oct 2022
Conference number: 9


ConferenceECREA 2022 Rethink/Impact
LocationAarhus University & DMJX
Internet address


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