Using humour to cope - how far is too far?

A person going through their Twitter account.

In these past couple of weeks, we have heard the devastating news from the Ukraine – they have been invaded and brutally attacked by Russia.

Living in the golden age of social media means that we see the hardships and terror people are going through first-hand. We have moved so far past the days when we would hear stories and experiences in the papers or on the radio. Now, seeing Ukrainians and Russians posting about what’s actually going on and watching them in real time makes the whole situation feel very real and much closer. For instance, a Ukrainian girl has taken to TikTok to bring awareness to the conditions in which she’s been forced to live during the war (Update: She has now made it out of Ukraine into a safer location).

With the whole conflict materialising on our screens, I’ve observed people flocking the internet to make light of the situation and wondered if this reflects a way to cope with the horrors of war. Humour, as we’ve come to learn, can act as a safety blanket for those affected by the ongoing trauma to climb under.

Humour, I suppose, has the capability to restore optimism in people by sending a message to others that no matter what goes down, they will continue to keep their heads up high and trudge forth into the world. It could also be the case that humour helps distract people for a second from the chaos that’s ensuing around them. Multiple studies show that humour is a great way to cope with trauma and stress.

However, I do wonder if the people who are making these jokes are directly affected by the war or are they like me, a distant spectator who is nonetheless affected by the crushing stories that come from this conflict? And if they aren’t directly affected by the war, is it okay for them to be making jokes about it in the name of “dark humour” or “to cope with the situation”?

Of course, I’m aware that different people perceive things differently. Anyone anywhere can feel the piercing impact of war whether or not they’re directly affected. But I’m genuinely struggling with some of the content that I’ve seen lately – some of them come across as racist and insensitive. Like I said before, I understand how jokes can be used as a coping mechanism (think about the way stand-up comedians are using their art to talk about bigger societal issues in a less confronting and more approachable way). I’m left wondering however if it invalidates the seriousness of the war, particularly when content is created by those who not directly affected by it. 

It’s a fine line between what is okay and not okay when it comes to making jokes on the internet. So for me, to be a good digital citizen is to know where the line is drawn, especially when it comes to sensitive topics such as this. It’s okay to use humour to help lighten the mood and lift people up but it’s important to read the room first and stop when you think you’ve gone too far. Most importantly, I want to live in a world where we hold space for everyone to speak up about their experiences.

If you are experiencing distress from the recent news surrounding Ukraine and need somebody to talk to, contact the Counselling Service or reach out to your GP who can refer you to a psychologist (for international students, here's more info). You can also get in touch with Headspace if you're under 25.


Tagged in What messes with your head, Ukraine