Author: Ximena Díaz Alarcón, current PhD Candidate in Sociology (UCA – Universidad Católica Argentina). You can contact her at email@example.com.
Field site: In strict lockdown in Buenos Aires, Argentina, connecting with informants via Whatsapp via mobile phone. Informants are 45 + years old women of middle-upper socioeconomic levels living in Buenos Aires.
I was doing fieldwork before lockdown, meeting with Middle and Upper SEL women from Buenos Aires to talk about what it means to be an adult in these times, the meaning of being 45 years old today, how they feel about themselves, their lives, their bodies, and their work, when a strict lockdown was imposed by the Government on the 20th of March due to COVID-19. The lockdown is still ongoing.
Since lockdown started, we have continued to chat through Whatsapp and there, we talked about the feeling of quarantine as something surreal that had just happened. Many of the women were concerned mainly about three things: their own parents and how they were going to get their groceries, given that information had started to circulate in the media about seniors being one of the most vulnerable segments of the population, and secondly, how their teenage kids were going to get their classes and how the different institutions were going to cope with schedules, and finally, how they were going to cope with their own work schedules and housekeeping chores. Many of them are used to having help with this, but since circulation was prohibited, no one could come to do the chores.
Soon, chats gave way to memes and images as a form of quick expression in the group. These ranged from the surreal situation, to the appreciation of everyday life and the joys of family, to the tensions related to pushing kids to do their homework, to juggling work and housekeeping chores, to the multiple jokes about the ”dangers” of anxious eating so much home-cooked food and cakes and the very uncomfortable trips to the store to buy food all covered up.
Memes seemed to help these middle-aged women cope with quarantine stress and disrupted routines in their homes – they are quick way to share information in closed groups but also on their social media while trying to avoid bad news and sad or worrisome images. Generally, they tried to keep up with traditional media (TV, radio and online versions of traditional newspapers), as they felt they were in general not publishing “fake news”, and tried to avoid sensationalist or “clickbait” news, since too much information (and fake items) was making them feel even more anxious and stressed.
The first memes alluded to kids needing to study remotely during quarantine and avoiding “wasting time on TikTok”. When the strict quarantine period was prolonged further, memes showing a white –haired president saying “now, you can go outside again” as if years have passed started to emerge, and after one of his broadcasts, in which he explained very complex statistics regarding the effects of ”flattening the curve”, more memes appeared, jokingly showed him explaining the complex map of interactions between the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote.
For these middle-aged women, traditional media is the main source of information used, presenting a seriousness and formality that helped them feel they were getting concrete and real information, and it seems memes help them cope with the anxiety created by confinement and its impact on their daily lives, using humour to release tension quickly.