For those of you who haven’t heard about the tale of Harambe yet, on the afternoon of May 28th this year at the Cincinnati Zoo in the state of Ohio, a 17 year old male gorilla named Harambe was shot to death after an unsupervised boy fell into his enclosure. The news exploded on social media and immediately polarized their users. The moments leading up to the shooting were caught on camera. While officials from the zoo and many experts believe the gorilla posed an immediate threat to the life of the young boy and tranquilizers would further enrage the animal, many disagreed and regarded the shooting as excessive and were saddened by the death. The main topics of dispute centred around whether the parents should be charged, and the value of human lives versus that of an endangered animal.
Not soon after, the matter begins to escalate and issues less relevant to the shooting itself were thrown into the mix, such as the recent race-related gun violence, animal cruelty, and the prevalent lack of parenting skills just to name a few. Others also criticized the fact that there was so much spotlight on a gorilla when many people are dying from conflicts and starvation all over the world. Amidst the opinions posted by people who genuinely cared about the incident, others piggybacked on its popularity for entertainment and attention. It is no surprise for those who are well accustomed to the internet community that the latter group soon became the dominant voice in the matter. Comedy-related internet tropes such as vines, tweets, pranks, conspiracies, petitions, gags, and of course large helpings of memes. These were great for people who enjoy the light-hearted humour in between the short pauses of their short clicks. After its brief period of fame, the fad began to lose momentum and the internet happily moved on to its countless other sensations.
Interestingly, 2 months after the incident, the popularity of the gorilla resurfaced and managed to reach an even higher level of fame, still going strong as I’m writing this in September. The incident itself has long been a thing of the past yet the gorilla is being treated like an idol, one who commands our reverence and solidarity (the irony being part of the joke). There were of course actions from persistent people acting as the trigger that catalysed Harambe’s second round of stardom; nevertheless the mentality of the internet community fuelling these seemingly bizarre behaviours is worth looking into.
Various communities used Harambe as a means to propagate their own political agendas, such as bringing attention to the recent death of black minorities in America by police shootings. Those with more malevolent intent used the incident as a means to bash and ridicule America at any chance available, making fun of the extensive lack of common sense people in America seemingly have, with social media often portraying lower and middle class Americans as obese, arrogant and hypocritical. The zoo’s controversial actions and the lack of apparent remorse shown by the parent further fanned the flame, making them an obvious target for people who are looking for places to vent out their built up frustration from their daily lives. The majority of us were simply caught in the internet’s compulsion to over-react and to milk every last drop of attention in events such as these. What is special about the death of Harambe compared to that of other celebrities is the freedom to express one’s darker sense of humour where comedy related to the death of people are frowned upon. Being able to let out their inner desire for profanity and death-related satire without having to bear any burden on their conscience was an opportunity too good to pass on for some. To those of us who are light-hearted and don’t like to take things too seriously, this will simply become the one of many internet phenomena that we will come to accept and live through. I would like to mention a quote by the former CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, at the end. “The internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.”
#Justice4Harambe #RIPHarambe #DankMemes