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The Wojak and Doomer Memes: Philosophical and Spiritual Tropes for Gen Z

The face of Wojak is one of the Internet’s most versatile and enduring memes. A meme, more recognizable than many other modes of humor for Gen Z (or Zoomers), is commonly defined as an amusing item, such as a captioned image or video, or a genre of items, spread online and adapted for various often self-referential contexts. Wojak is a long-lived meme that has become a focal character for dark comedy on YouTube, with an entire personality and world lore organically grafted onto him. He is a character onto whom can be projected all kinds of dark Gen Z humor: failure, regret, a sense of aggrievement or injustice at the unfairness of the world, and ironic self-mockery. Videos involving Wojak tend to exaggerate the injustices inflicted on him and his maladaptive responses to them, giving a glimpse into the social and cultural anxieties of Zoomers.

A typical Wojak meme, brought to life with personality, characters, and lore. From

Wojak is a comedic character who allows us catharsis by letting us laugh at his personal shortcomings and misfortune. While Wojak’s circumstances might differ, depending on the animator, he is usually unable to find a partner, trying to get out of his dead-end job, and often falling for crypto scams and going broke from his collapsing portfolio. He gets little sympathy from co-stars Zoomer, Boomer, and a constellation of other memes with darkly humorous personalities, shaped over time in a collaborative way by anonymous content creators and posters circulating their images. This is an organic method of content generation that was unimaginable to pre-Internet generations and technology.

In some ways, it is even possible to recognize some meme-like qualities in religion. After all, religions are culturally contingent and can be unintelligible without understanding the cultural and historical contexts from which they emerge. Meanwhile, Boomer, Gen X, and Millennial generations often find it hard to keep up with the plethora of online memes, partly because they reference cultural phenomena that are mainly known only to Gen Z and younger cohorts.

As time passes, religions become self-referential like memes, with a “lineage” of discourse and ideas that can be traced and identified. Vajrayana is removed in time and space from Theravada, yet both reference the Buddha and the three treasures. The iconography of Buddhism, such as the Dharma Wheel, the lotus, and the eight auspicious symbols, also communicate something that is understood without the need for comprehensive explanation, and can be easily adapted to any context or audience.

While modern memes are perhaps presented in a more relatable manner than many theologies or religious teachings these days, the philosophy of suffering and overcoming it remains infinitely richer in Buddhism, and other world faiths and philosophies, than what residual life lessons we might find from Wojak videos.

The Doomer. From

There have been attempts to portray Wojak as a sympathetic character. Perhaps he dropped out of high school or his true love cheated on him. His parent(s) might have passed on early. He was born ugly and balding, and can only find unstable and unfulfilling employment. The problem is that it is almost impossible to feel sorry for him because in the lore itself, all of his misadventures come about through his own shortcomings—specifically his addictions to unhelpful habits. Too many of these and an abundance of unfortunate incidents lead to the Doomer, the Wojak who has effectively given up. Doomer represents a patchwork of pessimistic views about a range of issues—about his own future prospects and the future of the world, impending environmental collapse, and social decay and degeneracy. His self-awareness depends on the storyteller’s own maturity, and the content creators are usually Zoomers, in their teens and twenties.

Doomer’s misery is not an assessment he has come to after reading extensively about the world, or meditating on how we are led to believe in an illusory self which then leads to clinging and therefore suffering. As far as Doomerism can constitute a philosophy, it stems derivatively from certain pessimist strains like Schopenhauer, but more from Anglophone fiction like American Psycho, Fight Club, Taxi Driver, The Dark Knight, and more recently, Joker. All of them have been influential enough to leave memes of their own, generated by diverse groups. But these bodies of work are themselves cultural and artistic riffs on approaches to materialism, social philosophy, and nihilism that long preceded Doomer’s assessment, which emanates entirely from his personal standpoint and ego. His world begins and ends with his self, which is inherently limiting from a Buddhist perspective.

Joker (2019). From

Even the stories that are sympathetic to Doomer usually reveal that he dooms himself through three main problems. First, he betrays maladaptive tendencies. Wojak has a Manichean view of life’s possibilities, in that he will either become rich and obtain that fabled “Lambo,” or be stuck at McDonald’s working minimum wage. This effectively compels him to never set realistic goals, but at the same time, never be satisfied with what he has.

There is no such thing as “okay,” “acceptable,” or even “so-so but could be worse.” There can be no room for bumbling mediocrity or modest satisfaction. There is only  heaven or hell; obscene wealth through crypto or abject misery and poverty. There is no Middle Way. The scornful (if exaggerated) way Wojak refers to his “wagecuckery” reveals all one needs to know about what he thinks about an “average life.” Wojak feels any salaried job to be contemptible, respected only by “wagies.”

A Buddhist psychotherapist might have a good deal to say about his addiction to gambling all his savings on crypto. His obsession to be a get-rich-quick investor is an understandable but pretty unimaginative ambition that would not endear him to much admiration or sympathy. It is hardly pro-social. And speaking of anti-social: Doomer complains of having no friends, being alienated, and having no chance to connect with others. Yet he is profoundly disconnected from any kind of self-awareness or self-reflection.

His second problem is a kind of arrogance in how he sees his suffering as uniquely acute and unjust, and everyone else is just a “normie” or “NPC” who has not experienced financial woes, the loss of loved ones, or loneliness, isolation, and rejection. He does not seem to care much for the suffering of others, having limited interest in social causes, history, or religion, and demonstrates little reflection about the nature of poverty, injustice, and the human condition.

Thirdly and finally, there is his resistance to change or trying something new. For the most part, Doomer sees the idea of changing one’s perspective on misfortunes as a form of “coping” or self-delusion. Ironically, remaining rooted in one’s current ways, to remain narrow-minded and closed, seems to be the very definition of cope. Doomer’s nihilism seems to be a rehashed version of Albert Camus’ basic question for philosophy: “Should I kill myself?” Buddhism acknowledges the suffering permeating all life, but is clear on the way out of it. Wojak just returns to crypto.

A more hopeful outcome for the Gen Z Doomer. From

Due to the nature of Internet humor, satire, and “shitposting” (many Wojak stories should not be taken too seriously), the best lesson Wojak and Doomer have to offer seems to be to find humor in pain and suffering. But if one were to extrapolate the figure of Wojak or Doomer into a real life fellow, he would cut a sad and disturbing figure. It is the figure of someone profoundly broken inside and has no access to spiritual resources. The Buddha shows us the path, but will we even seek to walk on this path? In a good chunk of online literature, Doomer is often rescued by a muscular, beaming, peaceful “Gigachad,” who is for all intents and purposes the Internet’s (inaccurate) portrayal of an enlightened being. We do not always have these bodhisattvas in real life. But such beings do care, even for completely lost Doomers and Wojaks. Life, after all, is marked by suffering and our karma is our own to create. Change, constant and ever-flowing, can be the pathway to better modes of living, doing, and being. Perhaps this insight of the Buddha’s is more “based” than anything online nihilism can offer.

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