We have been thrown into a brand new decade, complete with its fair share of disasters. Two days after celebrating the New Year, the hashtag #ww3, or World War 3, was trending on Twitter. This trend was in response to the abrupt killing of a high-ranking Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani, an action that the United States promptly took responsibility for. Understandably, this enraged both the Iranian government and its people, with the Supreme Leader and numerous parliamentary figures promising  “harsh revenge” for the United States  and its allies. 

On Jan. 8, the Iranian military launched a barrage of missiles at an Iraqi military base housing American troops. Thankfully, no casualties were reported, and for now, the wire-thin line separating both countries from all-out war has thickened. However, this didn’t stop millions of people from fearing another long, bloody conflict in the Middle East that could see involvement from other world powers and devolve into a third world war. Such fears are understandable yet far-fetched. What is most unsettling is perhaps that this war scare occurred only two days into the new year. It is this dismay at the state of affairs at this particular time that fueled the spread of talk of #ww3, with people sharing and making memes regarding the realistic prospect of war and dire turn of events

Happening at roughly the same time as this potential international crisis, a series of intense brush fires ravaged numerous landscapes of southeastern Australia, killing over a billion animals and threatening numerous species with extinction. A cursory Google search reveals widespread devastation of once-pristine landscapes, with koalas and kangaroos clinging to the arms of firemen and rescue personnel for dear life. While Australia has a bad fire season every year, the size and intensity of these blazes caused the issue to receive international recognition, with many citing climate change as the reason for the sheer devastation the fires have caused. 

Keep in mind that all this is at the same time as a heated dispute between two powerful military countries, furthering the satirical, albeit paranoid, belief and social media trend that 2020 would mark the end of the world as we know it. While the fires were confined to a specific time, place and region, their effects and the idea that such cataclysms will only worsen with time did not fall on deaf ears. While there were no memes concerning the spread of these fires, it further validated the above beliefs. 

On top of all this, there has been a widespread outbreak of a particular strain of coronavirus that has infected thousands of people in China’s Wuhan province, killing over 300 and sparking fears of a global pandemic. Realistically, this is unlikely to happen. Influenza, which has claimed over 8,000 lives this season, is significantly deadlier and more threatening than a unique strain of a virus the World Health Organization is closely monitoring. Nonetheless, many have flocked to Twitter and other outlets for those with incredibly short attention spans, proceeding to both make memes about the outbreak and the disastrous course of events headlining the new year. 

Some of them have compared seeing combat in Iran or elsewhere to playing the video game “Call of Duty,” where one’s experience and level of skill playing it correlates directly with their ability to fight effectively in battle. Others have taken to mocking the transitory nature of war, treating risking one’s life as a commonplace occurrence. 

In a similar vein, those fixated on the coronavirus have drawn a parallel between the spread of the virus and the popular pandemic real time strategy game “Plague Inc.,” in which the player controls a particular disease with the goal of extinguishing all life on earth. Some have included the idea of playing the game on a computer in Area 51 following the fictitious raid of the military complex that occurred over the summer, and triggering a real-life pandemic. Others have taken to xenophobic and racist condemnation of Chinese dietary practices, as the diesease is reported to have been transferred from animals to humans. 

These memes reflect a general apathy towards potential disaster. The public treated a devastating war as a Double XP weekend in “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare,” fires of unspeakable destruction nothing more than a larger trend in a year already off to a bad start and a virus that has paralyzed a city of over 10 million people an attack on a particular nation. 

In many ways, I am ambivalent about the precise nature of these memes. While many concerns regarding Wuhan coronavirus outbreak are unwarranted and worthy of the highest degree of condemnation, I find others to be in the order of a sort of dry humor, helping many cope with these troubling times. Furthermore, they have instilled within me a hitherto unexperienced feeling. Will every future disaster result in the same response? Is this how my generation handles potential calamities, by simply treating them as another hashtag to post about? 

This is both terrifying and uplifting. On one hand, joking about something that can put millions of lives at risk from a prejudiced perspective is destructive towards both mitigating the effects of the disaster and helping its victims. On the other hand,  humor fulfills the necessary role of society’s satirists, those who see the humor in what is otherwise a terrible situation and making the most of it in a benevolent matter; any society that has forgotten how to laugh, even for a fleeting moment, in the worst possible scenario is at risk of collapsing due to its lack of heart. 

We must find a way to collectively view a given situation and deal with it in a way that is productive, yet self-aware, and not entirely devoid of some degree of humor not demeaning the sufferers in the process. 2020 may not be off to a great start, but we can certainly do our best to make it better.