The Harambe meme is shitty
expect descriptions of online harassment, racism, etc.
In May 2016 a three-year-old boy climbed into a gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo, where he was grabbed and dragged by a 440 lbs Western lowland gorilla named Harambe. In order to protect the boy's life, a zoo worker shot and killed the gorilla. It was a horrifying moment: a child was put in danger, and an animal that visitors had been coming to see for years died. Everything after was bizarre: folks who know nothing about apes demanded to know why a guerrilla had to be killed, a family was harassed for something largely not under their control.
As you might expect, this situation is extremely ripe for offensive jokes.
Most of these were normal. Having an opinion on Harambe was a good way to say something that got a rise out of someone but was clearly not serious: "I'm glad Harambe is burning in Ape Hell". Like every disturbing image since 9/11, it became a common photoshop subject. Some were more fucked up: part of the harassment that lead to Leslie Jones quitting twitter were messages saying "you should be shot like Harambe".
About two months after the incident Harambe jokes evolved into a more viral form: the ironic tribute. In an imitation of the folks upset over the killing, the gorilla became a virtuous figure. Dicks were pulled out in eulogy. Bush was blamed for it. A picture of the animal looking stately became popular.
What's surprising about all this is not that folks were making a meme out of a horrifying situation, it's that such a meme became mainstream. Vox dot com had an explainer, because I guess that's what people want to read on the internet.
The "Harambe" meme takes myriad forms, including popular sub-memes like over-the-top parody memorials and the popular viral slogan "dicks out for Harambe." It has also been decried for its racist undercurrent, despite the fact that black communities played a part in creating the meme and popularizing its initial spread on social media.
Esquire the magazine was angry that anyone tried to explain it.
I'm not going to explain why Harambe is funny. You don't need me to. Nobody needs me to. In fact, the moment you or me or anyone else tries to unpack those primal belly laughs that Harambe elicits, the moment that same pleasure dissipates into the ether. (Much like Harambe, RIP, gone too soon.)
A suggestion: perhaps unpacking this meme is so horrifying to you because it is shitty? If I'm being generous, the target of the joke is the out of proportion public response to Harambe's killing, but there's such a huge irony buffer that we can't be sure what the target actually is. Would the meme be any different if the target was anyone that's sad a gorilla died?
The unsettling parts about the meme go unnoticed in part because it's also so cheery. It's about caring for an animal (ironically). It's about being reverent (ironically). It's all things normal people do, but ironic this time. I do not want to live this life.
If something feels bad when you unpack it, just stop. There's countless things on earth to get genuinely excited about. There is nothing so precious about the dead gorilla meme.
On August 21st the director of the Cincinnati Zoo had his twitter account hacked, and filled with ironic calls for justice. A poll finds that 5% of Americans would vote Harambe for president. Winston, a gorilla character in the game Overwatch, is regularly referred to as "Harambe". I guess that's just what people want.