A dead gorilla became the meme of 2016

- Sam Judah

Jan 3, 2017-

His was the face which launched a thousand memes--so why did Harambe the gorilla capture 2016’s collective online psyche?

It was a sad story that could have been even sadder. In May, a three-year-old child fell into an enclosure at Cincinnati Zoo. One of the Western lowland gorillas inside started dragging the boy around.

Fearing that the boy’s life was in danger, a zoo worker killed Harambe with a single shot. The boy escaped without serious injury.

The events were captured on a YouTube video which has been watched millions 

of times.

Harambe’s death touched off a heated--if predictable--debate about zoo welfare standards and whether lethal force was necessary.

But what wasn’t expected was what came next. Harambe became memeified. His image was spread far and wide throughout the internet. He became the subject of serious and unserious campaigns. And he was even memorialised in song.

It started as a spontaneous and very real outpouring of shock and grief over the killing.

“Had I been there, I would have gone into the enclosure myself,” says Frank Paris, one of the people who used the hashtag #RIPHarambe to express his sadness. It quickly began to spread hours after the gorilla’s death.

Although he lived a few states away in Los Angeles, Paris, along with many others, was upset at Cincinnati Zoo’s decision to kill the animal.

Of course, that’s just one reaction from someone thousands of miles away, whereas zoo officials say they were right to take action to stop any potential serious injury to the boy.

Aside from his canonisation on social media, there were candlelit vigils for Harambe. There were also campaigns targeted the boy’s parents. Some online called for them to be prosecuted for negligence. The boy’s mother was cleared of any wrongdoing. That wave of emotion was in turn hijacked by comedians, pranksters and trolls who mocked those who were making so much of the story.

Then things took a dark turn when the memes were picked up by the alt-right, an amorphous but internet savvy white nationalist movement. The gorilla’s image was used in racist messages.

But the Harambe phenomenon was also too large to be totally owned by one fringe group. Memes comparing Harambe to David Bowie, Prince and Muhammad Ali have since gone viral. He’s been the subject of fake news stories, books, comics--and a parody of the Book of Genesis.

“I think it spoke to a level of outrage fatigue. If you’re seeing people freaking out about a dead gorilla, over say thousands of people dying in the Syrian refugee crisis, then what do you do with that anger?’’ says Romano, the Vox writer.

“The only way to sort of express your anger was to just turn this sort of worship of Harambe and turn this deep cultural grief over Harambe’s death into a meme.”

Indeed, not just any meme, but the meme of 2016.

RIP Harambe.

—©2016 BBC trending 

Published: 03-01-2017 08:42

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