Trivialization, as one can tell from the name, is “making something seem less important than it really is”. So why is this among the most important issues of the decade? Surely there are other, more devastating issues, such as global warming, the overpopulation or hyperinflation crises in several countries, etc. It may not be well-known, but trivialization is a very critical topic which more people should be aware of. Its importance stems from the fact that it is inherently connected to all of the above issues. However, before elaborating on its potentially catastrophic consequences, I shall first explain its origins and some of its more positive possibilities.
Trivialization as an act of making things seem trivial is fundamentally connected to the art of humour. Making fun of a problem can be a method of coping with how serious it is. For example, there are several examples of celebrities with terminal illnesses who have lived through them with cheeriness and have even made jokes about their situations. In the past decade, there has been a meteoric rise of humour in the world in the form of memes, joke posts, dark humour, etc. This is mostly due to the advent of social media, which has done an excellent job of connecting people to the world. When done within reason, trivialization is a good, healthy method of coping with one’s problems. However, a large part of it involves satirizing very serious topics.
One example of this is the widespread fires in Australia, which were fairly recent. While a tremendous number of people donated money to the affected families or expressed their condolences on social media, an enormous number of people instead made jokes about it. It is not acceptable to mock such a serious event, where at least 25 people and about 1 billion animals perished. Some may say that the memes brought much needed attention to the issue and thus sparked donations and condolences. This is, admittedly, true. However, while they did bring attention to the issue, it was the wrong kind of attention. When something is trivialized, although we are aware of its existence, it is not considered ‘urgent’. Since jokes had been made about it, most people unconsciously labelled it as ‘unimportant’. “If it was important, we wouldn’t be making jokes about it, would we?” Only a small percentage of people would be able to overcome this bias and see the true significance of the issue.
Another recent example is the rise in tensions between the US and Iran after the US killed one of Iran’s most beloved generals. Social media was flooded with “World War 3 memes” for several weeks. In this case, admittedly, a third world war was unlikely considering that neither country would desire such an event. However, the fact that an event with so much potential for disaster, was treated like a joke is quite alarming.
On a superficial level, trivialization might seem to be nothing more than a slightly questionable act. Just people who satirize serious topics. However, the problem goes far beyond that. To illustrate, let us speculate on how people would have reacted to the possibility of a third world war in the early 2000s. It is very likely that they would have reacted with fear and shock. People would nervously stockpile resources, barricade themselves inside their homes, or seek out safe havens. This is a huge contrast to how people have reacted to the very same possibility just a few weeks ago. It is clear that people have slowly become desensitized to such grave events. They do not think that these events could threaten or affect their way of living.
A pertinent example of this is global warming. For years, statistics have made climate scientists nervous but when they published their data, they were not taken seriously at all. People still went about their lives, following a few basic rules which should have been followed anyway, like saving water and using biodegradable materials, and were satisfied for “having done their part”. A very prominent figure in the climate change issue is Greta Thunberg, a 17-year-old climate activist who became famous when she began a school strike to protest against climate change. A recurring theme in Greta’s speeches is that people are not taking the problem seriously and are ignoring its potential impact. This is a symptom of trivialization, which has led to our inability to take catastrophic issues seriously. In fact, after Greta made these statements, people began to ridicule her as well. While the memes about Greta Thunberg have brought more attention to the problem of global warming, it is still, as mentioned earlier, the wrong kind of attention. Since people have made fun of a climate activist and ridiculed her, the majority of people have unconsciously labelled her (and by extension, climate change itself), as ‘unimportant’. It is because of this that the rapid growth of trivialization is so worrying.
As mentioned earlier, trivialization is a good coping mechanism in moderation but when overdone, it can have disastrous consequences. The question that now arises is “How we can determine how much trivialization is too much trivialization?” This becomes even more difficult to answer when one considers dark humour, which dances on the narrow boundary between what is acceptable and what is not. There are some basic rules of thumb that can be considered in this case. An example is that if an event affects other people and not you, it is not acceptable to joke about it. The Australian Wildfires situation can be viewed in this context. The people making jokes about it have likely never experienced anything like what the victims have gone through. Whereas, when the problem directly affects you and you alone, it is acceptable to make jokes about the situation, again, within limits. Another rule that one may consider is that when an issue affects people globally, it should not be joked about too often as this would desensitize people to the problem. The reason for the importance of this issue is that if we are not aware of it, it may indirectly lead to the terrible impact of other issues, such as Global Warming and Poverty. Thus, following these rules would ensure that humanity does not lose its way and stays on the right path.