Memes are inescapable. If you use the internet, in just about any capacity, you’ve encountered one. Odds are you saw a meme today in the space between when you woke up and when you finished having breakfast.
But what is a meme? Essentially, a meme is defined as an idea, behaviour, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture. This brings up an interesting point: whether or not a meme accomplishes anything is entirely irrelevant to its being, its core definition. A meme is only characterized as such in that it goes from one person to the next. This concept can be used when speaking of evolution, because traits that are carried on by a species can be considered memes, spread by one member of the species to the next.
Now, internet memes. You’ve seen them, and probably had an active hand in propagating them. Harambe the gorilla is probably one of the most interesting, if not the most irritating, memes right now. Harambe the gorilla was shot dead by staff at the Cincinnati Zoo after a child fell into his enclosure. #JusticeforHarambe, proclaimed the meme. At this point, the memes have a purpose to somehow avenge Harambe’s death. Somewhere along the way, I’m sure that some propagators of the Harambe memes actually care about gorillas and actively campaign for better treatment of the animals.
But here’s the thing: sharing something on the internet does nothing other than expose an endless audience to whatever is being shared. The Harambe meme quickly devolved from “Justice for Harambe” to “Dicks out for Harambe.” The phrase, along with pictures of the gorilla (honestly it could have been any gorilla) were shared on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets.
The whole thing became a joke. And a pretty simple one at that.
Get your dicks out for Harambe, the dead gorilla. What does that accomplish? Nothing. Not a damn thing. First of all, apart from the lewdness of the whole thing, nowhere in the cycle of this meme did the general public engage in a discussion about animal rights. Sure, animal activists and interest groups and people belonging to these groups did, but these people would have lobbied for the better treatment of animals regardless of the Harambe memes’ popularity.
Instead of educating, or even serving as a form of remembrance, the Harambe memes turned into entertainment. And this is the thing: there’s absolutely nothing funny about the phrase “Dicks out for Harambe.” Nor is there anything inherently funny in the death of a gorilla, or any other animal. While unfortunate, Harambe’s death wasn’t unique; animals have been killed by zoo staff before this, and they’ll be killed after this. For a whole bevy of reasons, justified or not.
The only thing memes like these do is take an issue, strip it of any actual depth, simplify it to the point of absurdity, and turn it into a joke.
Six months from now nobody’s going to be getting their dicks out for Harambe. There’ll be some new meme, popularized and distributed in the same way this one was. If you still do remember Harambe the gorilla six months from now, ask yourself this: Can I confidently say that in perpetuating the Harambe meme, or any other meme, I accomplished, or helped others to accomplish, any specific goal? Did I help honour Harambe’s memory? Did I add anything of value to a discussion which contributed to the betterment of our suffering planet? Or did I just perpetuate ignorance for a laugh?
That’s for you to answer.