Digital culture roundup: New high for the ‘blue dollar’ (and online humor)

Resorting to laughter when things get tough is a time-honored Argentine tradition that is alive and well

October 10 is Mental Health Day. A commemorative date to raise awareness about the importance of better health, not only for our bodies but also for our minds. As it turns out, the timing of the reminder proved to be particularly relevant in Argentina. 

On that same Tuesday, financial turbulence rocked locals once again as the parallel exchange rate reached AR$1,050 per US dollar, an all-time high. Local mental health proved to be as sturdy as could be expected considering the situation, as people resorted to humor as a way of dealing with (ongoing) economic insecurity.

The Herald reported that this steep increase came after far-right presidential candidate Javier Milei publicly advised against renewing fixed deposits in pesos and called the currency “worth less than excrement.” 

As soon as the price for a single dollar in the parallel market topped AR$1,000, memes started showing the little red ovenbird that appears on the Argentine bank note worried about its future. Swiftie banter even arrived a month before Taylor Swift’s November performance in Argentina, as the price kept going up by the hour. 

“We’re about to welcome Taylor with a AR$1989 dollar,” one user posted, a reference to Swift’s studio album re-recorded this year. But it also works as a link to the hyperinflation the country suffered in the late 1980s.

While Argentines are used to inflation, the crisis during this election cycle seems to be speeding up at critical moments. Just before the primaries, there was a run on the peso. Following the PASO, the government announced a 22% devaluation of the peso. And in between presidential debates, the “blue dollar” also jumped. And its not over yet, as there are still a few more scenarios that can cause instability to rise.

Instead of panicking — or while doing so — Argentines flooded Twitter with memes. And there’s a scientific reason for that. “Humor is a resource for playing things down when they become as rigid and difficult as an economic crisis,” says psychologist Laura Ferré.

The impact of laughter and a sense of humor has been studied by many social scientists. Philosopher Henri Bergson pointed out that it was a way of distancing ourselves from reality.

Ferré agrees with Bergson’s theory and digs deeper into this particular case. She considers memes a product of digital culture and a resource for expressing how we feel. “Just like people used to paint graffiti on walls in discontent,” she says. 

Humor in memes provides digital communities with a number of things: a way of expressing how they feel and distancing themselves from the financial crisis, while also lowering anxiety. In Ferré’s view, this process also allows individuals to ask for help if they need it. 

“Humor in this context avoids the feeling of being paralyzed,” she says. 

Psychologist Miriam Maidana is more cautious and warns that there might be a limit to the benefits of memes. “Humor has a defensive use; Freud studied it. However, when your landlord evicts you because he wants to charge a higher rent, or when your job security disappears, a meme can only get you so far.”

Maidana and Ferré agree on one thing: meeming out the crisis builds a community where you can laugh about the pain with others who are going through the same while toning down the stress of the situation. As the saying goes, two in distress make sorrow less.

And if that doesn’t work, Swifties will get us out by dissociating.


All Right Reserved.  Buenos Aires Herald