Dead gorilla immortalized as meme

September 8, 2016 — by Austin Wang and Alex Yang

Internet ablaze about dead ape

    At the top of Reddit’s front page on Aug. 23, users found the headline: “Zoo Staff Find Harambe’s Tomb Empty."

    This is one of many satirical stories that emerged after the death of a silverback gorilla named Harambe in the Cincinnati Zoo.

    On May 28, one day after Harambe’s 17th birthday, a 3-year-old boy climbed over a 3-foot fence and fell into the gorilla enclosure. Harambe grabbed the toddler and dragged him around the pit before being shot and killed by panicked zoo officials.

    Experts have disagreed over whether the boy was in real danger, as gorillas have been know to protect children. For example, in 1996, a 5-year-old boy fell into the Jersey Zoo’s gorilla exhibit, where a gorilla named Jambo stood over the child and stroked the child’s head until the child regained consciousness.

    The controversy over Harambe’s intent attracted attention from news outlets like CNN and NBC. Many people were upset with the killing of Harambe, but others found the extensive coverage to be over the top and even humorous.

    Within weeks, Internet users created jokes out of Harambe, which generated a stark contrast to the seriousness of the gorilla’s death. After hashtags like “#doitforharambe” began spreading on Twitter, Harambe suddenly became one of the most popular memes of the year.

    Students, too, have joined the conversation. Senior Bryant Chang, a meme enthusiast, explained the Harambe phenomenon.

    “There are Facebook groups and pages dedicated to posting memes about Harambe,” Chang said. “Harambe has even made an appearance in the presidential race, as both [Republican presidential nominee] Donald Trump and [Green Party nominee] Jill Stein have commented on the gorilla.”

    Although Harambe seems to be just another Internet fad, the fact that multiple presidential candidates have addressed the incident elevates Harambe to the national spotlight.

    On May 31, Trump said to reporters at the Trump Towers, “It’s amazing because there were moments with the gorilla. The way [Harambe] held that child was almost like a mother holding a baby. [Harambe] looked so beautiful and calm.”

    Chang also defended Harambe and the meme, claiming that Internet users were bound make Harambe’s death a joke.

    “I understand the zoo deemed the meming of Harambe disrespectful, but it's their fault for killing the gorilla. You can't stop the internet from making more memes [as a response],” Chang said.

    Reddit users have even jokingly suggested that Gorilla Glue is given its name “because Harambe is the glue that held this nation together.”

    Beyond the Internet, Harambe’s influence can even be seen interrupting everyday life. One Cincinnati high school football game was interrupted by a man in a banana costume holding a sign that read “R.I.P Harambe” while another man in a gorilla suit dragged children around the sidelines.

    The ape has also been displayed on merchandise, as several entrepreneurs have been trying to cash in on the new fad.

    One Kickstarter, aptly named “Shots for Harambe,” promises to sell shot glasses with illustrations of Harambe, because “[Harambe] took [a shot] for you.”

    Campaign creator Nicholas Verity has already raised nearly 25 times the $1,500 it originally had its goal set to begin producing the shot glasses.

    After the huge amount of buzz online about the dead primate, the Cincinnati Zoo shut down all of its online accounts, including its Twitter and Facebook.

    Although Chang claims the Harambe memes are dying out, at the very least, they taught society a lesson on the oddness of the Internet that won’t be forgotten soon.

    “I see it as an incident that spread the weird side of the Internet,” Chang said. “Never forget May 28.”


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