From Pandemic to Parody

In the fourth part of this blog series on infographics, we look at how traditional infographics are becoming the setting for parodistic expressions and how – especially in the social media channels – humorous expressions are responding to the corona pandemic.

Are we allowed to laugh and make fun of memes even during the corona crisis? Yes, humour can certainly be used as a weapon against the fear of the virus. Ofra Nevo and her team already described in 1993 in their article “Humor and pain tolerance” that soothing humor and laughter increases pain tolerance. Newspapers such as the Tagesanzeiger introduced online columns (“Humour against virus crisis – laughter in corona times”) to collect the best humorous examples. So, this serious corona time should (also) be mastered with humour and healthy humour can be quite system relevant without following the crude conspiracy theories.

In this (positive) sense, the Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin and Die Zeit adapted their traditional cake charts to questions about the omnipresent home office. A cake diagram is also the starting point of a meme in which “expectation with the reality of the end of the world” is parodied.

«Gefühlte Wahrheit», in: Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin
«Torte der Wahrheit», in: Die Zeit
The Apocalypse, unknown source

There are countless visual statements about the corona pandemic circulating in the social media. The list of hashtags is long: #coronavirus, #coronakrise, #covid_19, #coronatime, #stayathome, #bleibdaheim, #stayhealthy, #coronamemes, #corona🍺 etc.

For example, subway maps  or apartment floor plans serve as metaphors to humorously point out our current small radius of movement.

Timetable in corona times, unknown source
Brazilian version, unknown source
Top travel destinations 2020, unknown source

Of course, toilet paper and the wearing of face masks in times of the corona pandemic are not to be missed – famous icons of art history and highlights of LP cover design are also parodied.

Screenshots from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter

As already mentioned in my blog post on infographics “Out of the Box”, the importance of social distancingis taken up by well-known companies by temporarily updating their logos. The world of sports is also playing along – despite or perhaps because of the re-launch of the German Bundesliga – and visualizes the importance of social distancing.

Screenshots from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter

Since there are currently no specific vaccinations or drugs against Covid-19, treatment methods are being researched tirelessly around the globe. However, until these have passed all clinical trials, some Covid-19 treatments are still being parodied in the social media channels.

Screenshots from Facebook

In the period of the corona pandemic, where daily media conferences are held, these statements are followed in detail. For example, a slip of the tongue quickly goes viral, like that of Daniel Koch, delegate of the Federal Office of Public Health for Covid-19, who spoke of “open beer” instead of “obviously”. Involuntary satire goes viral just as quickly, as the example of a trailer for the Daily Show shows.

Trailer of the “Daily Show”, source: YouTube

The virus is omnipresent and so common in our everyday lives that daily newspapers use these images for their puzzle pages.

Luzerner Zeitung, 09.05.2020

Illustrations and cartoons, with their trenchant style, enable complex issues to be communicated clearly and comprehensibly. The Museum of Communication in Berne is currently posting uplifting cartoons on the corona crisis on its Instagram account “Von Corona gezeichnet” and is continuing its tradition of presenting a humorous review of the year in the form of the exhibition  “Gezeichnet …”.

Source: Twitter / @bomelino

Speaking of illustrative instructions for use: On the Wash Your Lyrics website, you can generate your own personal hand washing infographics based on your favourite song.

But the parody and humorous expressions are not only found in social media channels. Humour can also be used for concrete communication tasks, as an example from Hamburg shows very well. There, a set of stickers was designed for a primary school and district school, which should ensure distance and attentive interaction. With striking illustrations and meaningful headlines, the pupils are reminded of the most important hygiene and distance rules.

Sticker set for schools after the lockdown; Bureau Bald for the Hamburg primary and district school Alter Teichweg

We see: Humour can also be used in official communication (in a measured way) and contribute to appropriate communication. It is desirable that humour appears more often in communication and campaigns at all – not only in the corona crisis!

After this excursion into humorous expressions on the corona pandemic, in our next blog post we will talk to Marc Brupbacher, head of the interactive team at the Tamedia editorial office, and learn how he and his team develop and implement data visualizations and new storytelling formats.


Jimmy Schmid

Prof. Jimmy Schmid is a professor of Communication Design, head of the MAS studies Signaletics - Environmental Communication Design and senior researcher at the Bern University of the Arts (HKB).

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