If you ask a person from Generation Z to define their humor, chances are, you will get an answer that makes no sense. Surprisingly, the art world faced the same confusion in 1916, with the introduction of the Dada art movement.
Europe was being ripped apart by World War I and to escape its horrors, some artists and writers moved to neutral Zurich, Switzerland. It was here that they concluded, in response to an international conflict that was started because of sense and rationality, that their art and writing had to be nonsensical and irrational. New writing and art techniques were made to counter what was the norm of art and literature. Marcel Duchamp introduced the concept of readymades, sculptures made out of ordinary objects, and Hannah Höch developed her style with collage to critique the social status of women and the German government.
Tristan Tzara instructed people to create poems cut out from the words in newspapers and Hugo Ball recited gibberish poems. These artists and writers created these works as a result of the world they are living in. They used the nonsense of their works as a way to cope with the uncertainty and chaos that was brought by the war. Similarly, Gen Z uses absurd humor as a reaction to and a way to cope with the uncertainty of the world today.
A Readymade sculpture by Marcel Duchamp titled “Bicycle Wheel”
Political unrest, global conflicts, and environmental disasters are some of the many problems that are visible in the world today. With social media and the internet, the people of Gen Z are constantly exposed to these horrors, leading to feelings of hopelessness and anxiety with the uncertainty of what could happen next. As a reaction to the state of the world, humor is used to cope with those feelings.
The one thing that stands out about Gen Z humor and how it’s so similar to the Dada movement is its use of being nonsensical and absurd despite devastating world conflicts. Gen Z memes are unexpected and catch you off guard, combined with the situations the jokes are presented in, it makes for absurd humor that can be difficult to understand. These jokes are the coping mechanism Gen Z uses to battle the uncertainty of the world around them.
Whether it’s 1916 or 2023, one thing is for certain: the jokes of Gen Z or the artwork of the Dadaists share the common goal of using chaos and confusion to cope with the chaos and confusion of the world.