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Do we joke about Ebola because we’re afraid of it?

Posted: October 21, 2014 5:05 p.m.
Updated: October 21, 2014 5:05 p.m.
BrandsOnSale.com screenshot/

You can now get an Ebola containment suit costume online for $79.99, courtesy of BrandsOnSale.

For some, Halloween means dressing up as a witch, zombie or vampire. For others, especially this year, Halloween means dressing up to contain Ebola.

That’s right. You can now get an Ebola containment suit costume online for $79.99, courtesy of BrandsOnSale.

“The deadly Ebola virus has landed in the United States and the crisis has reached new levels of domestic escalation. You are sure to be prepared if any outbreak happens at your Halloween party,” the costume’s description reads. “This will literally be the most ‘viral’ costume of the year.”

While the costume may be “no different in my eyes than what a firefighter costume would be,” according to Johnathon Weeks, CEO of BrandsOnSale, it points to a larger trend hitting America -- making light of a deadly situation.

In recent weeks, players at a Pennsylvania high school chanted hurtful comments about Ebola at a player from West Africa, and the owner of the New York Giants joked about the Dallas Cowboys being the first to contract the virus. An Ebola TV show is also in the works.

But polls show that Americans aren’t as ambivalent about the virus as they let on. According to a Harvard poll, 52 percent of Americans are concerned Ebola will spread throughout the United States in a major way in the next year. And 38 percent of Americans are worried that someone in their immediately family will contract the virus in the next 12 months, the poll found.

So how are we as a nation dealing with that worry? Humor.

Comedy is an effective way for people to cope with stressful and emotional situations, according to studies from Stanford University. Optimistic humor -- like dressing up as an Ebola health official to save the country -- tends to help people cope more than cynicism -- like sarcastically ridiculing the government’s response to the virus -- the studies found.

“If you are able to teach people to be more playful, to look at the absurdities of life as humorous, you see some increase in wellbeing,” said Andrea Samson, who co-authored one of the studies at Stanford.

Experts have called laughter the “human gift for coping,” which acts as a natural defense system that helps people conquer their fears, according to Dr. Alex Lickerman. She said that joking makes people prepare to face and conquer their fears.

“We’re signaling ourselves that whatever horrible thing we’ve just encountered isn’t really as horrible as it appears, something we often desperately want to believe,” Lickerman wrote.

This isn’t necessarily a new trend, considering a similar situation that occurred back in 2012 when many feared the apocalypse, triggered by dates mentioned in the Mayan calendar. In fact, 15 percent of the world thought they’d experience the end of life as we know it at that time, according to a Reuters poll.

During that hysteria, we saw movies like “2012,” as well as a variety of apoclypse-themed Halloween costumes emerge -- much in the same way that the Ebola costume and TV series have appeared in recent weeks. And we all remember Y2K and all the havoc that created.

But, in much the same way as these other events, The Washington Post’s Paul Waldman said there’s nothing to be afraid of. The virus, though deadly, has been hyped too much by the media and pop culture.

“If you find yourself with symptoms including anxiety, sweating and a clutching in your chest,” Waldman wrote, “you’ve probably been watching too much television.”

But for those who are worried about what may happen, there was a study done on where you should go during a major catastrophe. Answer? Head to the middle of the country.

Email: hscribner@deseretdigital.com, Twitter: @herbscribner

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