The Decline of Self-Expression & the Psychology of Dark Humor

In an era as digitalized as ours, it appears that it is difficult, even unfeasible to determine, in exact terms, how many emerging trends are swept into the collective’s mind-frame to then be referred to, used, caricatured, and even abused, and how many trends have emerged, aged, and quickly became obsolete and died.

One of those trends has particularly aroused my attention, and I am tempted to examine and analyze it in any reasonable way.

D I S C L A I M E R : This article is the product of speculative and psychological analysis, it can be viewed — relatively — as impractical or “lacking proof” as I am not presenting a scientific article or research output, rather it is more of a succession of thoughts on the emergence of a peculiar phenomenon which we have been witnessing: Dark humor’s widespread, be it through social media “memes” or other means…

Without further ado let us begin.

Today’s Dull Resonance

In an epoch like ours, the modern Man, and especially millennials live with their phone stitched to their hands. Mindless scrolling seems to be the all-time top hobby for teenagers, adolescents, and nowadays, even adults (especially if they are lost, wandering aimless in the path of life…)

We can forgo from providing deep analyses to see that our era marks the accentuation of fake authenticity as it is not the main subject which I will be lingering on. We, at least, ought to not disregard the fact that there exists, within today’s collective consciousness, that is, modern men, a — psychological — resonance which marks the bogging-down of the individual’s morality into the quicksand of self-obliviousness and lack of “connection” to oneself…

All are caught in a wave of attention-scattering light screens. The lines of our personal books are blurred. Our vision is jammed by the attention-numbing mechanisms which we rely on in order to deviate from discovering an alarming truth about ourselves, facing our inner fallibilities, dealing with our dysfunctional mental-emotional constructs and so on and on, the list is far from being brief…

For instance, we might think that mindless scrolling is harmless and does not impact our life. Well, apart from the fact that Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram leverage the very same neural circuitry used by slot machines and cocaine — the dopaminergic system — to keep us using their products as much as possible, it wreaks havoc on our internal emotional state and self-perception, as well as it damages our ability to structure our time accordingly in order to engage into meaningful pursuits, and most importantly to think for ourselves.

I elaborate.

The stagnation of millennials, generally, of the modern Men, and the abundance of technological advancement and the role it played on changing our habits, behaviors, and even routines, clearly impacts the collective’s way of life. And this is especially true if we are living in a capitalistic, collectivistic society, which we all are in exception to few parts of the globe.

The outward expression of thoughts and/or reactions which previously were pushed — by external forces — to be handled by the brakes of repression — that of the individual — be it by socio-cultural labels of “inappropriate” or “bad” or as one’s own psychological bias, all contributes in the building-up of internal tension or rather the propensity to engender a later-turmoil within the individual.

The answer to the question that ought to be asked will only provide us to how the modern man can relieve himself of such tension, of this socio-cultural grip who appears all-judging in its own nature rather than it is liberty-encouraging to let spontaneous self-expression from emerging. The modern man desperately looks to a mechanism enabling his “discharge of tension.” In other words this discharge is temporary relief or rather a coming-out of that which was suffocated due to “superior” forces: the watching-eye of society.

There is a reason to why dark humor did not exist or at least wasn’t as widespread in, say, the Renaissance or in previous time settings. In the paragraph to come, we will approach the matter as to understand the peculiar phenomenon which consists of displaying and multiplying “inappropriate” jokes and internet “dark humored memes” on social media or else…

What’s more, numerous matters have made it out of the question to lift the brakes of the mechanisms of psychological repression — that of the masses — to then produce a mockery, even ridicule of what can be (and was, for that matter) considered as taboo. Perhaps previous generations have had this sense of lighthearted maliciousness, but certainly not as they do today, particularly millennials. Most of the time, he who encouraged the display of taboo-mockeries was shunned and seen as the audaciously blasphemous or as an immoral trickster.

Dark Humor: Into Today’s Commonness

Delving more into the nature of these matters, I would like to linger on the one that is all-too obvious to me:

Slavery which engendered one of the hardest stigmas to lift in our contemporary culture: racism, predominantly, and the stigmas coming from human trafficking and servitude citing: sex trafficking, child trafficking, bonded labor, debt bondage, and so on and so forth. The reason to why this can be considered the embodiment of taboo when it comes to humoring it in an after-work jest, is that the wound is still open. Man knows that he is profane, so why keep reminding himself of his unintended profanity? Instead he could comfortably kick it away from his conscious mind!

The trafficking of men of color has happened only yesterday, so to speak, and it is because of the horrors which perpetuated in the modern age that still make Man look at his reflection with sheer contempt… Two world wars wherein Nazi Germany enslaved an equivalent of 12 million people both considered “undesirable” untermenschen (sub-humans) and citizens of conquered countries in concentration camps such as Auschwitz, the Soviet Union’s gulags and Lagerey (labour camps), was all a glimpse which demonstrates the inclination to which humanity possess to make horror possible, and to perpetuate it.

People still remember the pain of the repercussion of human trafficking and slavery. The wound hasn’t fully healed, and this explains contemporary racial slurs and scandals in which the matter of human “race” is used as an excuse to pillage, hurt, and kill in the name of petty squabbles about race politics. The examples aren’t lacking, we could linger on them for the rest of the article and even write a novel about it…

Other societal matters include: abortion, adultery, bestiality, incest, masturbation and so on and so forth, all are subject to be used in settings of dark jokes on social media or “memes.” The reason to this is as plain as day: anything bearing the “inappropriate” label will be dragged and modeled into the most profane, even hurtful jest conceptualized by the human mind.

Into the Root Cause

What I call the Profanity of the modern man describes well this phenomenon. It is an abstract concept evidently, and to understand it we ought to gaze deeper into the psychological nature of the all-too common individual who dedicates huge amounts of his time to mindless scrolling and meaningless, intermittent abuse of social media. Through this reading we will delve into the depths of this faultiness of behavior, digging for the reason to why somber pleasantries are more and more common, particularly on those who spend hours in the memes sector of social media…

But first, let us take an example which can explain what we’ll be expanding on… Let me ask you: what happens when you deprive a child from playing?

Sustained, moderate-to-severe play deprivation during the first 10 years of life appears to be linked to poor early child development, later leading to depression, difficulty adapting to change, poorer self-control, and a greater tendency to addiction as well as fragile and shallower interpersonal relationships. There are parallels with severe play-deprivation in individual humans — particularly young children who find themselves unable to play because, for instance, they are caught up in wars, severe poverty, or abusive home settings. When these children do not play normally, they may have real difficulty joining in with the human tribe and recovering from their experiences. That’s because belonging to your own social group is a complex social and emotional learning experience, catalyzed by play.,fragile%20and%20shallower%20interpersonal%20relationships.

Bottom line: Play primes the brain for social and emotional learning, thus one cannot expect that play deprivation might not impact children at a later point of their intrinsic development with their environment.

Same thing applies when we deprive ourselves from genuine self-expression, which is the instrument that we all, as humans, share. This instrument, from an existential viewpoint, is the tool by which the individual is able to affirm his uniqueness, individuality, his “sticking-out” to the crowd, thus it can be regarded, from a superficial way, like the toy the child uses to indulge in play. This self-expression is merely an attempt to communicate our need for uniqueness, a need that is forgotten by the all-too common man…

Due to a lack of self-expression which is rendered possible by turning away one’s own gaze from what is truly valued by the character of one’s own individuality which includes the dormant potentialities and unfulfilled potential, the normal man — without his realization — is quenching the very thing which will enable him to live life to the fullest… It is as if one is cutting his own tongue and then wondering why he can’t babble words in an understandable articulation.

Behind the Curtain

This lack of a healthy display of one’s potentialities makes one feel small and insignificant. Furthermore, it is not unreasonable to note that the feeling of insignificance is despised by all men, which in itself, is an understandable standpoint. This response of universal contempt towards insignificance describes Men all-too well. Thus when one feels insignificant and the thought of his worthlessness is rendered semi-conscious for him to see, one has no choice but to deflect — even violently so — the burden of such crushing realization…

Ultimately, the un-powerful man in this case longs to discard his un-powerfulness by attempts of over-compensation which aim to “hurt” or provoke even the slightest distress vis-à-vis no one and everyone at the same time… This is when this individual indulges in forming what can be perceived as hideously hilarious memes, or “inappropriate” display of jests and pleasantries… Through such attempts, the person says to the world “I, too, can hurt” all in the final analysis of fleeing the daunting realization pointing out to his insignificance and overwhelming vulnerability.

But the question that arises now says: why would men’s over-compensation be in a form of pronounced flavor for dark humored jests, and not through another attempt which sides more on the aggression-hostility spectrum?

To be clear, regardless of the barbaric situations that humanity have faced, we learned all-too well to maintain peace in spite of the flames of faultiness which remains sedated deep within us. This means that we may have found more sophisticated ways to communicate to the world that “I, too, can hurt” without raising Kalashnikovs and weapons of mass destruction… This substitution is of a psychological nature of course. It shows how imperfect and fallible Men are.

Facebook memes are but an attempt to substitute what really lacks in a character. The only added value of it is grabbing the esteem of others through a couple of likes and reactions, along a subtle yet well-founded “discharge” of frustration stemming from the feeling of self-insignificance.

In his book the denial of death, Ernest Becker beautifully captures the essence of such phenomenon: “Man feels inferior precisely when he lacks ‘true inner values in the personality,’ when he is merely a reflex of something next to him and has no steadying inner gyroscope, no centering in himself. And in order to get such centering man has to look beyond the ‘thou,’ beyond the consolations of others and of the things of this world.”

This “gyroscope” cannot be obtained through the “thou” let alone through an act as empty as mindless scrolling, but you already now realize that, since you arrived at the very end of this article.

With this being but a subjective interpretation, it might bring a sufficient dose of insight to what really matters for the stray soul who awaits in the coldness of today’s world…