A new meme format has graced the internet, and its popularity is a signal to the general mood of the world: funereal.
Today, Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign for the to be the Democratic nominee for president. When I hopped in the group DM to commiserate, I knew what I would eventually see: a video of the now presumptive nominee Joe Biden saying something incomprehensible which would then smash cut to a video of Ghanaian pallbearers dancing with a casket, set to the EDM song Astronomia by Tony Igy.
This meme shares some DNA with memes we've seen in the past. The "To Be Continued" meme, which took its cues from the iconic ending theme to the first section of the JoJo's Bizarre Adventure anime, also turned tragedy or impending injury into humor by cutting away at the exact moment of impact. The difference between To Be Continued and Ghanaian Pallbearers is the acknowledgement of death or injury. When you watch a pallbearer dancing with a casket, part of the implied humor is that someone is going to fucking die.
It's not like a collective interest in the morbid is anything new. The subreddit r/watchpeopledie, now closed, used to have over 300,000 subscribers who just wanted to watch people die. If you know any teenage girls, you'll know that a lot of them go through a phase of fascination with serial killers. Hell, it's already a meme that millennial women are obsessed with true crime podcasts. What differentiates the Ghanaian Pallbearers from all of these is that you are invited to laugh at the tragedy, or at least the implication of one.
The dancing pallbearers can turn some incredibly grim content into meme material. I have seen pallbearers dancing after several news agencies called the election for Trump in 2016, after the second plane hit the towers (the creator deleted the tweet), a woman bungee jumping while the bungee cord is not visibly attached to her person, and a video of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying that he shook hands with COVID-19 patients in a hospital. Someone even did the climactic scene of Parasite. I did not find all these videos funny, but unusually for me, the anticipation of an injurious moment, or a part of human history that is shocking or tragic, made me seek out more of these videos.
I feel like if the internet is latching onto this format, then many people are seeking the same thing I am from culture. I don't want a mental panacea, or assurances that everything will be alright. I need to know that everything is exactly as bad as my running mental commentary is saying it is. Ghanaian pallbearers dancing with a casket in a highly choreographed routine, lifting it up and lowering it, pretending to drop it and laying down dead in an homage to James Brown, makes all the horrors of the world easier to handle. It's not a joyful laugh, but a grim one. Of course these videos all end in tragedy. Were you expecting something else?