Volume 10, Issue 12
You know what really rustles my jimmies? Harambe memes.
The death of the gorilla has been taken to excruciating lengths, but why is it so good at spreading? Because the name is easy to say, yet rooted in a non roman or germanic intonation. This is Orientalism writ large. Those three syllables bring a smile to many dials. Notwithstanding the fact that Harambe has a translation to English from its original Swahili, to the English ear, in a lilted tone, it sounds funny. Yet we don't mock Portuguese names like Damiao or Asian names like Phoung, so why is this African name the target of such casual racism?
Artistic license builds a trend around "my nigga harambe" and #justice4harambe. These are parodies of one specific culture: Black America. In these memes, Harambe is the stand in negro. As such he can be depicted standing up and violently rebelling, smoking weed and helping the downtrodden. He watches from gorilla heaven, supposedly, and adopts whatever demeanor the populace wants, which seems to be, overwhelmingly a black caricature. This underlying principle becomes sickeningly clear when it comes to the ultimate use of Harambe's image: a sarcastic one.
We are living in a post-DFW world. Irony, in and of itself is passe. We're now ironically being ironic. Sarcasm too, is a relic of the mid 90s. But on the internet, in an age of trolling, 24 hour news cycle and social media, all posts must be sincere, but on another level, humorous. It’s safe to post something and claim you're posting it ironically, because you're really against that post, or even posting in general. This automatic sarcasm comes to light with Harambe. In adopting racialised vernacular and hashtags relating to authoritarian death, we can channel sympathy for Harambe in the same way we would any friend. Except here, it is always tongue in cheek. We would never post about cloning our friend, or our friend coming back to life to protect you. Nor would we message the Facebook page of the zoo that killed them. But we do with Harambe. Because it’s funny. And no one really cares about Harambe, right?
And therein lies the problem. In turning Harambe into the pastiche of a black person, people are granting themselves free reign to ridicule black people through not so subtle racism. Moreover, to mourn a death in the most obnoxious manner to mirror the outpouring of twitter support that follows every death that Black Lives Matter cares to inform you about. In this way they shield themselves from calls of racism because “it’s just a gorilla.”
For anyone who thinks I'm reading too much into it, we have an almost direct example in Cecil the Lion. That animal's death wasn't characterised in the same way so broadly. In fact, it actually led to a decent fight for animal rights. What is the point of difference? Is it his Anglo name? Or the fact that he's blond?
That is why Harambe is a shit meme and the meme gorilla of choice should be shhh no tears.
Nick “No Fun, Not Ever” Parry-Jones is a second-year JD student
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