Seeing the COVID-19 Pandemic Through Memes

© Copyright 2021 Marina Arnone, Ryerson University.


The COVID-19 pandemic in which we have and currently are experiencing is unpredictable and therefore produces feelings of extreme anxiety and uncertainty. As a way of coping with this new situation, a niche of memes about the coronavirus pandemic has emerged. I want to investigate how humorous pandemic memes function to help people cope with anxiety and fear surrounding the coronavirus. I produced a collage entitled “Inside My Pandemic,” see figure one, in which I included five large black and white images depicting real moments from the pandemic, surrounded by smaller colour printed humour pandemic memes. My purpose of creating the collage was to demonstrate how the images of the pandemic are at the heart of our fear and anxiety, they represent the very real and heartbreaking side of the pandemic that we are attempting to cope with. I positioned the coronavirus memes on top of the images in an effort to show how the severity and reality of the images often fall back as we engage with memes. The memes we engage with often touch upon a less serious side of the pandemic, such as the hoarding of toilet paper or the new culture surrounding Zoom meetings, therefore these ideas become our reality and ultimately make it possible to cope with the anxiety and fear surrounding the pandemic. I will investigate the function of pandemic memes as a way of coping with stress and anxiety through introducing my college and its situation among other means of critical analysis.

A collage I produced using images from the coronavirus pandemic, as well as memes.
Marina Arnone. “Inside My Pandemic”. April 11, 2021. Photograph. ©Marina Arnone.

The Process of Creation

A zoomed in look at my collage to show the relationship between the meme and image in the top left corner.
Marina Arnone. “Collage #2”. April 11, 2021. Photograph. ©Marina Arnone.

I created my collage by pasting five large black and white images of the pandemic, as well as twelve colour memes onto a large piece of paper. I situated the large images in the background, one in each of the four corners and one in the middle, and the memes as shattered on top to fill up the white space. I did this to represent the emergence of pandemic memes as a method to cope with and mask the fear and anxiety in which the large photos evoke. According to Limor Shifman, a meme is a group of content units, meaning memes share common characteristics, are created with an awareness of each other and is circulated and transformed amongst multiple users (Shifman 341). It is very easy for memes to circulate on the internet, for their meanings to be obtained and altered, and then reproduced for the cycle to be repeated again and again. Pandemic memes can easily be found on popular social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, therefore people can easily absorb their meanings and few them as a reality.

In my collage I positioned a pandemic meme in which a picture of friends clicking their Corona beer bottles captioned, “Me and the squad tryna catch the corona virus so we can skip work:” see figure two. Engaging with the meme on its own is humorous; it is a play on words and equates the pandemic with beer, therefore ignoring the severity of the pandemic. I positioned this meme under an image of airline workers fully suited up at the Los Angeles airport. I positioned the images this way to show how memes help us cope with anxiety, as they pose as a new reality in which is less serious and equated with humour.

Collage as a Form

I decided that I wanted to use a collage as my form, as it effectively works to present my research question. My research question focuses on how people use pandemic memes to cope with fear and anxiety, therefore my collage situates the memes on top of real images to demonstrate how memes help us detach from the severity of the situation. I wanted to take images and memes that have their own meanings and put them together to create a new meaning relating to my research question. Willem de Bruijn encourages his students in The Collage Workshop, in which he works with undergraduate students, to use black and white when they want their images to be less of a representation of reality and more of a visual-pictorial statement belonging to their own world (de Bruijn 295). I decided to incorporate this idea into my medium by printing the real images in black and white to demonstrate a detachment from reality, as well as printing the memes in colour to demonstrate how we view these humorous memes as more aligned with our perceived reality. I also brought the colour memes to Staples to ensure clarity, while I printed the black and white ones on my 20-year-old home printer. I did this because I wanted to portray the real images as being of low quality or poor images, see figure three, so that it would be somewhat difficult to comprehend. Figure three pictures a group of suited up healthcare workers at a test centre in New Delhi, in which one has fainted from exhaustion. In poor quality black and white, this image is hard to understand or find meaning in, similar to how we use memes to cope with out anxiety rather than delving into the reality of the situation. The audience I am attempting to reach are individuals like myself who have been privileged enough to have not been directly affected by the pandemic, except for through lifestyle changes, such as through the lockdown or social distancing etc. I think it is important for this audience to acknowledge that although we use humours memes as a means of coping and therefore clouds our perception of reality, there is still a very serious pandemic occurring weather we repress it or not.

A zoomed in look at a poor image within my collage.
Marina Arnone. “Collage #3”. April 11, 2021. Photograph. ©Marina Arnone.

Cultural and Historical Contexts

I want my work to be situated amongst other pandemic scholarship, such as Marta Dynel’s “COVID-19 memes going viral: On the multiple multimodal voices behind face masks,” in which she discusses the way in which memes are continuously being reproduced and altered to create different meanings. I also want to inform my work by looking at scholarship such as Christine Nicholls’ “Online Humour, Cartoons, Videos, Memes, Jokes and Laughter in the Epoch of the Coronavirus,” in which she looks at how humour is able to prosper in an environment of radical uncertainty and how it functions as a coping mechanism (Nicholls 274). I am similarly looking at how humorous memes make it possible for us to cope with fear and anxiety, but more specifically on how they function as our prominent perception of reality. My collage can also be situated amongst the cultural moment of the coronavirus pandemic; therefore, it can be referred to when looking at how individuals coped during the pandemic.



I created my collage entitled, “Inside My Pandemic,” in an effort to address my research question of why people use humour memes to cope with the stress and anxiety surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Through my medium, I was able to identify humorous memes as a way to alter our perception of the pandemic to view the memes as reality rather than the images of real moments that we are exposed to less. I was able to apply this idea to my project through the use of black and white, as well as colour images as a way to demonstrate what we perceive as being more realistic. Individuals often use humour as a coping mechanism, and in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, humour memes are circulating in a way to submerge the negative depictions of what is actually occurring.

Works Cited

Arnone, Marina. “Inside My Pandemic,” “Collage #2,” & “Collage #3.” 2021. Digital Photograph.

Blair, Olivia. “250 Coronavirus Memes to Get You Through Self-Isolation and Social Distancing. ELLE UK, 22 March 2021,

Bruijn, de Willem. “The Collage Workshop: Exploring the Image as Argumentative Tool.” The International Journal of Art & Design Education, vol. 39. No. 2, 2020, pp. 290-305, https://doi

Dynel, Marta. “COVID-19 Memes Going Viral: On the Multiple Multimodal Voices behind Face Masks.” Discourse & Society, vol. 32, no. 2, 2021, pp. 175–195, doi:10.1177/0957926520970385.

“In Pictures: The Coronavirus Pandemic.” CNN, 8 April 2021,

Nicholls, C. “Online Humour, Cartoons, Videos, Memes, Jokes and Laughter in the Epoch of the Coronavirus”. Text Matters: A Journal of Literature, Theory and Culture, no. 10, Nov. 2020, pp. 274-18, doi:10.18778/2083-2931.10.17.

Shifman, Limor. “The Cultural Logic of Photo-Based Meme Genres.” Journal of Visual Culture, vol. 13, no. 3, Dec. 2014, pp. 340–358, doi:10.1177/1470412914546577.

Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.