The European Journal of Humour Research

Vol 10, No 3 (2022)

Covidly humorous memes: coping mechanisms and power dynamics of humour during the pandemic in Morocco

Mohamed Mifdal


The analysis of memes posted on Moroccan Facebook pages during the first wave of Covid-19 pandemic shows that the use of humour by Moroccans is not only motivated by achieving mirth but it also vehicles critical views about issues of common concern debated in the digital public sphere. Some of these memes were used to cope with fear and uncertainty. However, most memes harboured mixed feelings about the situation and were used for social control and the expression of conflict and resistance, addressing issues of behaviour, governance and communication. This article uses a social semiotic approach to analyse the collected memes (460 from personal and communal pages) as a multimodal discourse in terms of context, culture, and media affordances. This article contends that the study of these memes can be a key to understanding how Moroccans used humour to cope with danger and radical uncertainty, build identification and strengthen social cohesion. It also highlights the polyvocality of humour in times of the pandemic and the gradual shift from inclusive, conformist and sympathetic humour to disparaging, exclusive and challenging humour as the pandemic lingered, consensus began to crack, social control was challenged and injunctive norms were replaced by survival values. The results show how these memes are indicative of the way humour changes mechanisms and functions in terms of contingent motivations.



Abbas, J. et al. (2021). ‘The role of social media in the advent of COVID-19 pandemic: crisis

management, mental health challenges and implications’. Risk Management and Healthcare Policy 14, pp.1917–1932.

Ahmad, R. A. & Murad, H. R. (2020). ‘The impact of social media on panic during the COVID-19 pandemic in Iraqi Kurdistan: online questionnaire study’. Journal of Medical Internet Research 22 (5), pp. 1-11. doi: 10.2196/19556.

Ajzen, I. (1991).‘The theory of planned behavior’. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 50, pp. 179-211.

Amici, P. (2020). ‘Humor in the age of Covid-19 lockdown: an explorative qualitative study’. Psychiatria Danubina 32, Suppl. 1, pp 15-20.

Apter, M. J.(ed.). (2001). Motivational Styles in Everyday Life: A Guide to Reversal Theory. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Attardo, S. & Raskin, V. (1991). ‘Script theory revis(it)ed: joke similarity and joke representation model’. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research 4, pp. 293-347.

Attardo, S. (2015). ‘Humorous metaphors’, in Brône, G, Feyaerts K. & Veale T. (eds.), Cognitive Linguistics and Humor Research. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, pp. 91-110.

Attardo, S. (2001). Humorous Texts: A Semantic and Pragmatic Analysis. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Attardo, S. (1994). Linguistic Theories of Humor. New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Barthes, R. (1977). Image. Music. Text. London: Fontana.

Bischetti, L., Canal, P.& Bambini, V. (2021). ‘Funny but aversive: A large-scale survey of the emotional response to Covid-19 humor in the Italian population during the lockdown’. Lingua 249, pp.1-16.

Blackman, J. (2020). ‘A psychoanalytic view of reactions to the coronavirus pandemic in China’. The American Journal of Psychoanalysis 80, pp. 119–132.

Braniecka, A., Hanć, M., Wołkowicz, I. et al. (2019). ‘Is it worth turning a trigger into a joke? Humor as an emotion regulation strategy in remitted depression’. Brain and Behavior 9 (2), pp. 1-12.

Castells, M. (2009). Communication Power. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cavatorta, F.& Merone, F. (2020). ‘Never-ending reformism from above and dissatisfaction from below: the paradox of Moroccan post-spring politics’. Available at: Deutsches Institutfür Entwicklungspolitik. DOI:10.23661/dp16.2020

Cialdini, R. B., Kallgren, C. A. &Reno, R.R. (1991). ‘A focus theory of normative conduct: a theoretical refinement and reevaluation of the role of norms in human behavior’. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 24, pp. 201-234.

Coulson, S. (2015). ‘Frame-shifting and frame semantics: Joke comprehension on the space structuring model’, in Brône, G., Kurt, F. &Veale, T. (eds.) Cognitive Linguistics and Humor Research. Berlin/Boston: Walter de Gruyter, pp. 167-190.

Davies, C. (2010). ‘Jokes as the truth about Soviet socialism’. Folklore 46, pp. 09-32. doi:10.7592/FEJF2010.46.davies.

Davies, C. (2001). ‘Humour is not a strategy in war’. Journal of European Studies 31, pp. 395-412.

Demuyakor, J. (2020). ‘Social media and COVID-19 pandemic: enhancing panic or preventing it?’. International Journal of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences 6 (5), pp.211-222.

Fatih, Z. (2019). ‘Morocco’s Makhzen and the challenge of national development’. Journal of Global Initiatives: Policy, Pedagogy, Perspective 14 (2), pp. 177-189.

Freud, S. (2010) Complete Works. Ivan Smith (ed). Retrieved May 5, 2022 from:

Gardiner, M. E. (2000).Critiques of Everyday Life. London and New York; Routledge.

Halliday, M.A.K. (1994). Introduction to Functional Grammar, 2nd ed. London: Edward Arnold.

Holmes, J. & Marra, M. (2002). “Over the edge? Subversive humor between colleagues and friends”. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research 15 (1), pp. 65-87.

Hussein, A. T. & Aljamili, L. N. (2020). ‘COVID-19 humor in Jordanian social media: A socio-semiotic approach’. Heliyon 6, pp. 1-13.

Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University Press.

Kant, I., 1790 [1911], Critique of Judgment, James Creed Meredith (trans.), Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Kramer, Chris A. (2015). Subversive Humor. Dissertations Marquette University (2009). Paper 424.

Kress, G. (2012) ‘Multimodal discourse analysis’, in Gee, J.P. & Handford, M. (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Discourse Analysis. London: Routledge, pp. 35–50.

Kress, G.& Van Leeuwen, T. (2006). Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design. Abingdon: Routledge.

Kuipers, G. (2008). ‘The sociology of humor’, in Raskin, V. (ed.), The Primer of Humor Research, Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter, pp. 365–402.

Kuipers, G. (2005). ‘Where was King Kong when we needed him? Public discourse, digital disaster jokes, and the functions of laughter after 9/11’. The Journal of American Culture 28 (1), pp.70-84.

Martin, R. M. & Ford, T.E. (2018). The Psychology of Humor: An Integrative Approach. London: Elsevier.

McGraw, A.P.& Warren, C. (2010). ‘Benign violations: making immoral behavior funny’. Psychological Science 21 (8), pp.1141-1149.

Meyer, J. (2000). ‘Humor as a double-edged sword: Four functions of humor in communication’. Communication Theory 10 (3), pp. 310-331.

Mifdal, M. (2016). ‘Digital politics on Facebook during the Arab Spring in Morocco: adaptive strategies of satire relative to its political and cultural context’. The European Journal of Humour Research 4 (3), pp. 43–60.

Mifdal, M. (2015). ‘Cultural flow: intermedial satire in Moroccan and Tunisian rap music videos’, in Drees, M. M. & de Leeuw, S. (eds.) The Power of Satire. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp. 47-58.

Milner, R. M. (2013). ‘Pop polyvocality: Internet memes, public participation, and the Occupy Wall Street movement’. International Journal of Communication 7, pp. 2357-2390.

Moreno-Almeida, C. (2021). ‘Memes as snapshots of participation: the role of digital amateur activists in authoritarian regimes’. New Media & Society 23(6), pp.1545–1566. ps://doi.or

Páez, D. & Pérez, J. A. (2020). ‘Social representations of COVID-19’. International Journal of Social Psychology 35 (3), pp. 600-610.g/mm7761444820912722

Schrock, A. R. (2015). ‘Communicative affordances of mobile media: portability, availability, locatability, and multimediality’. International Journal of Communication 9, pp. 1229–1246.

Shifman, L. (2014). Memes in Digital Culture. Cambridge, London: The MIT Press.

Suls, M. J. (1972). ‘A two-stage model for the appreciation of jokes and cartoon: an information-processing analysis’, in Goldstein, J. H. & McGhee, P. E. (eds.), The Psychology of Humor: Theoretical Perspectives and Empirical Issues, New York: Academic Press, pp. 81-100.

Tsakona, V. (2009). ‘Language and image interaction in cartoons: towards a multimodal theory of humor’. Journal of Pragmatics 41 (6), pp. 1171-1188.

Tsao, S-F. (2021). ‘What social media told us in the time of COVID-19: a scoping review.’ Lancet Digit Health 3, pp. 75–94.

Yus, F. (2019). ‘Multimodality in memes: a cyberpragmatic approach’, in Bou-Franch, P. & Blitvich, P. G. (eds.) Analyzing Digital Discourse: New Insights and Future Directions. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

Wolkmer, I. (2021). Social Media and Covid-19: A Global Study of Digital Crisis Interaction Among Gen Z and Millennials. University of Melbourne. Retrieved May 5, 2022 from:

Wyer, R. S. & Collins, J. E. (1922). ‘A theory of humor elicitation’. Psychological Review 4, pp.663–688.

Zekavat, M. (2021). ‘Employing satire and humor in facing a pandemic’. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research 34 (2), pp. 283-304.