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Neo-dadaism: Why absurd memes resonate with millennials

Memes have been around for a while now. In fact, they’ve been around for enough time they have become an ever-growing part of culture, namely for millennials and members of Generation Z. As with any other type of media, those online jokes evolve with their audience. 

The evolution of the jokes has an equal amount of influence on the viewers’ sense of humor. The world has seen countless instances of memes losing popularity, according to The Atlantic. It often takes place on social media websites such as Facebook, where parents share outdated memes.

Though it may be easy to make fun of older generations for being behind the times and sharing outdated memes, it might not be their fault. There are plenty of other factors that younger generations must consider when comparing themselves to older generations in addition to worrying about getting jobs, delaying marriage and children, and being in debt. 

“I feel like when the world is that bleak and there’s so little hope, I think millennials are really suffering a lot from that,” Stephanie Tikkanen, an assistant professor in communication studies, said. “Why not escape to this absurdist viewpoint of the world?” 

Nothing makes sense in the traditional way, and millennials cannot relate to previous generations because their lives are so different, Tikkanen said. 

“It makes sense that they would sort of veer toward this appreciation of the abstract,” she said.

Especially when people see big businesses like Wendy’s using memes from 2009 such as “like a boss” in 2015, it is apparent there is a breakdown between older generations and millennials and Generation Z.

With the perception of the obscure and absurd that younger generations have, Tikkanen said in a world where those generations, on average, can’t afford the products, it makes sense that millennials would get upset.

“(They’re) going to get annoyed when (the companies) try to co-opt that humor that’s supposed to be (their) escape and a way to remind you of the fact that (they) can’t pay for things,” she said.

The problem most people encounter in trying to determine what has created its own cultural vocabulary is that a lot of those memes can be incredibly niche creations. 

There are a handful of articles now about how the new tier of memes is a branch of neo-dadaism, which is a resurgence of an absurdist style of humor but also art, according to Merriam-Webster. Referred to as a “counter-art” movement, it is easy to see how millennials and younger generations use the new style to communicate with one another.

“Whenever I share a joke with you, it’s in a specific cultural context,” Sarah Beach, a graduate student in communication studies, said. “So you’ll understand that joke and you’ll laugh at it because it’s in a specific context.” 

Humor is basically a way people communicate with one another, she said. Like other types of communication, people put it into specific contexts in society.

“It’s probably going to violate that context, or it’s going to violate a social norm,” Beach said. “Or it’s going to push the boundaries of our society.”

As the world continues to change and, consequently, the humor changes with it, one would wonder how this will shape the collective future sense of humor. 

The world will evolve with the humor that the majority of society finds funny. Although it is clear that memes will continue to be a part of that humor, it is unclear which memes will be used.

“The ways (people share memes), or the platforms or softwares (they) use to perpetuate it or create new ones also play a role in that, too,” Beach said.

Madison Sweeney, a sophomore integrated social studies education major, reinforced the assumptions that millennials and younger generations truly understand and find these memes funny.

“Sometimes if they’re in the right context, but I feel like they really have to be in the right context,” Sweeney said. “Otherwise, they’re just kind of too weird … to be funny.”


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