The subject’s name was Harambe. He was a 17-year-old western lowland gorilla who lived at the Cincinnati Zoo. As we all surely know, Harambe was shot and killed on May 28, when a three-year-old child fell into his enclosure and zoo personnel felt the boy’s safety could not be guaranteed.
There was some genuine grief and outrage after the fact. Harambe was a member of a critically endangered species of gorilla. He was killed at a zoo where he could presumably live out his life in a fatuous, human-sustained tranquility.
But along with the outrage, there was outright mockery.
I’m sure we’ve seen the endless Harambe memes that have circulated news feeds and timelines since the end of May. We’ve heard “dicks out for Harambe” more times than dicks have ever been seen in public. The Cincinnati Zoo, where Harambe used to cool out, in fact requested that our army of meme-generating computer nerds chill with the memes.
The rabid meme-ing continued undeterred. Toronto city councilman Norm Kelly tweeted, “Guys, please stop tweeting me about harambe. I don’t know if it was an inside job, if Bush did it, or anything else for that matter.” There were spurious rumors circulating that a newborn gorilla at central China’s Jinhua Zoo was named “Harambe McHarambeface” after the results of an online poll hijacked by English-speaking tricksters.
It wasn’t enough that we humans burned down the rainforests where the western lowland gorillas live and then forced them to live in our confined spaces where other humans gawk at them daily. It still wasn’t enough that we had to kill one member of their species to save the life of one of our own.
We then had to beat his carcass again and again and again with each new Harambe meme created and circulated. Whereas we could have simply let Harambe rest in peace after his unfortunate, but justifiable death, we opted to keep the dead gorilla around as an object of amusement on our vapid social media networks.
The essential takeaway thus far is that humans are assholes. But I’m sincerely hoping you knew that already.
Five months later, our mangled zombie specter of Harambe is still lurking about our Twitter timelines. He appears in memes where he’s being shot by Hillary Clinton, his death is being reenacted by frat boys in costume and a girl’s bathroom mirror selfie proclaims, “tits out for Harambe.”
As one of my colleagues noted in a meeting, the gorilla’s life has been reduced to a big joke. Perhaps the worst part is that even in death, Harambe can’t catch a break from humans who treat his existence (and now non-existence) as cheap cultural currency.
I could at this point begin a profuse bend of moralizing about why it’s so reprehensible to treat the late gorilla’s death as meme fodder on the internet. But that’s not so much my style, and I’m opting to trust that readers can intuit what the problem is.
It is justified to be upset about Harambe’s death and express frustration in a constructive way. If you genuinely care for the western lowland gorilla, there are plenty of ways to contribute to conservation efforts that ensure other members of Harambe’s species still have a place in the wild.
But something tells me most of the people creating and diffusing the Harambe memes could really not give a damn about that sort of thing. You might have seen them over Halloweekend dressed up as Harambe, and I slightly wish there was a drunk Harley Quinn around to throw up on them.
For the benefit of gorillas everywhere and for the marginal improvement of our post-meme culture, please let Harambe rest in peace.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Horus Alas is a senior philosophy major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.