Green Party Presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein is hoping that, by appealing to as wide a variety of cranks and edgelords as possible, she might somehow make herself and the Green Party relevant. (Note: some content in this post may be NSFW.)
This led to the somewhat surreal situation we have now: Jill Stein tweeting about Harambe, the 17-year-old gorilla killed several months ago at the Cincinnati Zoo, and that same deceased primate polling ahead of Stein in some states. It’s another sign of what a bizarre election season we’ve had.
Mediaite says Harambe has been turned into a “dumb meme,” which I consider unfair. Harambe is a hilarious and surprisingly versatile meme, though Internet jerks have done their best to ruin it by using it as an aggressive bludgeon, including against the Cincinnati Zoo’s Twitter account.
Harambe has given us the senseless but somehow memorable phrase, “dicks out for Harambe.” (A joke made by a friend of mine today regarding Anthony Weiner’s latest photographic sexcapade: “He was just getting his dick out for Harambe.”)
In a sense, the Harambe meme is the perfect accomplice for such a deranged political year. What does it mean? Does anyone actually care that the gorilla is dead? I doubt it. Killed in order to protect a child who’d climbed into Harambe’s enclosure, there were incredibly nasty, racist efforts to smear the kid’s family. It was a sad situation all around, made more disturbing by the ferocity with which some attacked the child and his parents.
Somehow, this vitriol morphed into a strange kind of ironic reverence for the departed ape. I’m not sure whether I should feel bad for laughing along or making Harambe jokes myself. On the one hand, humor is one of the ways we cope with death and otherwise inexplicable, incomprehensible events. On the other, making light of such a situation can easily be seen as disrespectful, even hateful.
It’s probably for the best, then, that Jill Stein decided to approach the issue, taking a more or less PETA-like position in which zoos should be illegal. I suppose this is a perfectly fine position for someone who will never see the inside of the Oval Office. After all, she panders to anti-vaxxers, and strangely nodded along as someone asked her about the dangers of Wi-Fi signals to children. The Green Party, it seems, is the party of cranks, conspiracy theorists, and others with a tenuous grip on reality who nevertheless want to vote for a left-ish candidate. If there is an alt-right, why not an alt-left? Fortunately, our alt-left really is a marginalized fringe with no power to move elections.
As Stein cynically tries to capture the Harambe vote, the gorilla polls around 5% against Clinton and Trump. She would no doubt like to bleed off some of those votes for herself, to no avail.
Rather than go on another rant about American apathy toward our election system, it does say something that there are people who’d rather vote for a dead gorilla than a live human being. Of course, we can’t assume that they would actually cast such a vote, either: there’s a long tradition of people deliberately spoiling polls for their own entertainment, and the bulk of Harambe votes are probably just that–snarky protests against a perceived lack of political options.
The Harambe meme’s resilience has nothing to do with any political angle, though. It sticks around for the same reason most other ironic memes do: because the uninitiated have no idea what it’s about, and stare blankly upon any mention of it. It’s a signaling device of tribal identity. There are those in the know, who are familiar with the meme, and then everyone else–the people who just don’t understand. The meme’s inherent absurdism is the key to its popularity within the subset of Internet culture, too: Internet meme jokes, almost by definition, make no sense in and of themselves.
Right now, I’m questioning why I chose to write about this today. The truth is that I had a hard day at work, I had some chores to take care of at home, and I already wrote Friday’s post–a heavier piece on the Yugoslav Wars and Russian propaganda. So, maybe I just want to smile a little, and laugh that a dead gorilla has become a _cause célèbre _for no other reason than because it could. That he’s become embroiled in a political season so strange you wouldn’t believe it if someone made it into a novel is just the icing on the cake.
It occurs to me that his resemblance to the Gorilla Munch mascot of the “that really rustled my jimmies” meme is probably not a coincidence. The best memes, after all, are those with slyly reference other memes.
Richard Dawkins probably regrets coining the term “meme” by now. As with everything else, the Internet has pounded it into a horrifying paste of nihilism, nonsense, and despair.
But we’ll always have Harambe. And possibly Jill Stein.