OPINION: Ebola is no laughing matter


5,830 miles from the United States, West Africa is being ravaged by a pandemic disease known as Ebola. Ebola, a disease spread only through contact with human bodily fluid, has infected a little over 10,000 people and killed just under 5,000. With no current cure, many experts predict that over 20,000 will be infected before one is developed.

Though Ebola has remained primarily concentrated in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, there is great worry that Ebola will spread rather easily to other countries. In total, eight countries have reported cases of Ebola so far.

The United States is taking severe precautionary measures in order to keep the virus contained- governors in the states of New Jersey, New York and Illinois have all ordered that any doctors and travellers who have come in contact with Ebola victims in West Africa must undergo a mandatory 21-day quarantine. While many are approaching the pandemic with seriousness, caution, and respect, there are many who are not.

Ebola has quickly become propagandized in more ways than one. A strategy game released to the Apple App Store in 2012 known as Plague, Inc. has gained over a million new users in the past few weeks as the Ebola epidemic has spread.

The aim of the game, which is now ranked the number one best paid-for game on the App Store in the UK, is to infect and ultimately to end humanity as quickly as possible with a deadly, global plague.

The popularization of Ebola is not limited to just the App Store. Social media outlets like Twitter have been buzzing with word of Ebola since the outbreak first began. Jokes about Ebola have been trending for the past few months, as has the hashtag #ReplaceMovieTitleWithEbola.

This hashtag links the tweets of Twitter users participating in a game in which you replace a portion of a popular movie title with the word Ebola. The funnier the outcome, the better.

Some popular contributions to the hashtag have been: “Fifty Shades of Ebola,” and “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Ebola.”

Ebola is one of many diseases without a cure. In 2012, 49,273 people were diagnosed with Aids, yet, there were no trending hashtags or Twitter jokes. Though 5,600 people are diagnosed with ALS in the United States each year, it is only when the word of Ebola spreads that a million people flock to buy an app popularizing the lethality of pandemic disease. What is it about Ebola that makes it an acceptable joke? What about Ebola is different than Cancer, or ALS, or Aids in that it is acceptable to fit only its name somewhere cleverly into a movie title?

“I think people accept jokes about Ebola because they aren’t aware of the seriousness of the disease. They feel like they aren’t affected by it because its so removed from our everyday life,” said sophomore Rachel Rosenberg.

Though Rosenberg believes that many mock and exploit the deadly pandemic because they are poorly educated, unaware, or removed from the situation, some believe differently.

“I think people joke about it to downplay how serious it is.” Junior Will Vance said.

Vance believes that people are actually aware of the seriousness of Ebola, and approach it in a joking manner to counter how scary it can actually be, despite the fact that the majority of the epidemic is taking place overseas.

For some, this distance is unnerving. Though it seems far away, there is always an underlying fear that Ebola will spread and ravage the United States as it has several other countries. As Vance suggested, some might cope with this fear of the spread of Ebola by downplaying the severity of the pandemic altogether. This aligns with the mentality many share: if we ignore the danger of an issue, perhaps the danger might go away.

For others, as Rosenberg explained, this distance may provide a security blanket. It makes the pandemic less real and less likely to be harmful to life here in Kansas, or even the U.S. Because the disease is only impacting places far away, we seem to be less inclined to educate ourselves about the pandemic, and more inclined to treat it as a joke.

A mixture of a desire to subdue fear, combined with a false sense of safety and a lack of education and awareness encourages the development of an environment where Ebola jokes exist and are accepted. In this environment, the death of over 5,000 is not so much a problem, but more of a punch line. In this environment, iPhone users aim to eliminate humanity with a virtual pandemic from the comfort of their own home while a real pandemic claims the lives of thousands just across the Atlantic Ocean. However, just because this humor is understandable does not make it acceptable.

I believe the best way to eliminate, or at least depopularize Ebola jokes is to encourage others to educate themselves about the pandemic. For those who approach Ebola as a joke in order to counter the fears they have about it, I think awareness of the disease will hopefully eliminate their fears and help them assess the actual danger Ebola poses to those of us in the United States. For those that are simply unaware of the effects of the epidemic, educating themselves about it might reveal that Ebola is most certainly not a joke, and should not be treated as one.

A viral tweet about Ebola. Photo from Twitter.
A viral tweet about Ebola. Photo from Twitter.