Harambe: the meme that refused to die


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Harambe: the meme that refused to die” was written by Elena Cresci, for theguardian.com on Friday 12th August 2016 08.00 UTC

When it comes to memes, there’s a rule: it is dead as soon as the thinkpieces come out.

The thinkpieces happened months ago with Harambe, so why can’t the internet let him rest in peace?

If you’re even just a modest user of social networks, you’ll probably know about Harambe by now, but in case you don’t: Harambe was the gorilla shot dead in Cincinnati zoo in May, after a three-year-old child climbed into his enclosure. The animal’s death was the subject of huge controversy, particularly on social media. Facebook pages were set up, angry tweets were sent. And, as with most internet-based outrage, it eventually abated. The news cycle moved on.

What happened next? Well, the internet did what it does best: it took the piss. It took the earnest posts that flooded our feeds after Harambe’s death and just ran with them.

According to the Washington Post, it started on Instagram, and bled into Twitter. Just when it seems to have stopped, the memes return. There were people writing songs and poems for Harambe:

There was the pseudo-campaign called “Dicks out for Harambe”, beloved by trolls all over the web. And then there was a spot of racism on Facebook, which was not funny at all.

Celebrities became involved:

It even made national news (sort of):

Long to the short: Harambe lived on in the memes.

At the end of July, the thinkpieces arrived, and according to the aforementioned rule, the meme should have died. Even The Sun wrote about it, albeit in an outraged sort of way which only made all the people making the jokes laugh harder. That should have been the nail in the Harambe meme’s coffin. Only it wasn’t.

 

Usually, when memes go mainstream it means they’re not funny any more. Memes are just in-jokes between people on the internet, and everyone knows jokes are much less funny once you’ve explained them.

Yet, the minute the Olympics started, the Harambe posts began:

Why has it endured? Well, there’s one thing missing from this meme cycle: brands. Usually within a few days of a meme going mainstream some brand will have co-opted it for marketing. Take Damn Daniel (the meme centred around a video of the titular Daniel and his friend’s appreciation of his shoes) used to sell Clorox:

And Dat Boi, the unicycling frog who made you say “o shit waddup” (this was a thing) seized upon by Nintendo:

But with Harambe, you’re talking about the death of an animal. It’s dark humour, too dark for brands. Credit goes to NY Mag’s Brian Feldman for pointing this out first:

In other words, it’s a meme that will never be co-opted by internet-literate corporate Twitter accounts or deployed by some hapless news anchor hoping for a viral moment.

He likens it to the 9/11 truther meme, weirdly beloved by teens. Brands can’t get involved with Harambe, because they can’t be seen to be mocking the death of a gorilla. So Harambe lives on as a meme long beyond its natural life expectancy.

That said, maybe this will be the thinkpiece to finally kill it. RIP Harambe memes.

UPDATE:

Turns out Sonic the Hedgehog is the brand which dares to invoke Harambe. That said, this account is a meme unto itself by now, so we’re not sure it counts.

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