Putting A Meme To Rest
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Politics and Activism

Putting A Meme To Rest

Looking at the birth, growth and shifting message behind the Harmabe meme

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Putting A Meme To Rest
Slate

If you’ve been paying attention to Internet memes in the past two months, chances are you’ve seen the name Harambe on your screen at least once. Or, if you’re like me, too many times to count.

Originally, only the name of a gorilla who got shot, the death and memorial of Harmabe has joined the ranks of Guy Fieri and Dat Boi as a punchline of online comedy spreading rapidly through social media channels. Depending on which crevices of the Internet you regularly rotate through, your familiarity with the meme and its origins may be slim, so let’s back up.

On May 28, Haramabe was shot and killed by Cincinnati Zoo officials after a three year old child fell into his pen. Following his death, many mourned for the loss of the endangered animal, while others criticized both the mother's poor parenting and the Cincinnati Zoo's decision to shoot the animal.

People freaked out online, too. A petition on change.org titled "Justice for Harambe" currently has over 500,000 signatures, and the hashtags #JusticeForHarambe and #RIPHarambe have been circulating since he died.

However, as with all things taken too seriously by certain groups, comedians arrived to do their job and make them look stupid. A modification of the petition’s title became the rally cry of the comedic gravy train and the “Dicks out for Harambe” meme was born. Whip out your penis and a gorilla may rise from the ground. Clever social commentary, the joke was well received and went viral.

Yet in the short time since it's creation, the Internet has dragged the once-innocent joke into racist territory. Initially unrelated, obvious parallels between the shooting of a large black gorilla and the recent police shootings of Philando Castille and Alton Sterling — namely the lack of hesitation to open fire, the memorials and media coverage — became too much for internet trolls to ignore.

The message behind the meme shifted from mocking animal rights activists and helicopter parents outraged over the improper handling of children and gorillas into mocking the memorial of black victims of police injustice and the Black Lives Matter movement as a whole.

Lettuce Dog, a website and social platform for memes, recently uploaded this photo on instagram explaining the inherit racism behind the Harmabe meme stating that it "decenters and trivializes the recent slayings of unarmed black men by police as well as the Black Lives Matter Movement," and that it perpetuates "the myth of black sub-personhood through the ironic memorial of a dead gorilla."

Brandon Wardell, the comedian who championed and originally popularized the meme, has recognized the issue and condemned further use, stating in a tweet, "i have 2 kill it." Clearly, comparing the shooting of a gorilla to the shooting of black men is racist, but whether the rest of the internet will stop posting the meme will likely be determined by attention span rather than social conscious.

The life cycle of a meme is a short one. Always on the lookout for the newest thing, the Internet will leave Harambe alone as soon as the next trend appears. Usually harmless combinations of goofy photos and text, the next meme will surely follow suit, but what Harambe has shown us is how quickly the meaning behind a meme can change and how people will continue to laugh simply because they recognize a joke. As members of the audience, it's our job to remain critical, to be aware of what we're laughing at and know when to hold our tongues.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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