By Kelton Reid
(Source: Cincinnati Zoo)
On May 28 2016, a three-year-old boy managed to climb into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. Video of the terrifying accident quickly went viral and news of the story spread like wild fire. The gorilla that lived in the enclosure was named Harambe. Based on the footage, it did not seem like the gorilla intended to hurt the young boy, appearing to only want to protect him. He was clearly unintentionally harming the child and dragging him through the water, across the enclosure. The only option for the staff at the time was to kill Harambe in an effort to save the boy’s life.
Controversy erupted over the Harambe’s death, as opponents of the gorilla’s execution demanded that the parents be punished for negligence, claiming that the zoo should have used a tranquilizer instead of live ammunition. In hindsight, it is very easy to be opinionated and critical. On the other end of the spectrum, had the boy been killed and Harambe not been executed, we would have the public screaming that the staff should have taken more extreme measures to stop the gorilla. Killing an endangered animal to avoid a lawsuit is what our society has come to.
This tragic situation has since grown into one of the most famous and insensitive memes on the Internet. For those of you that may be unfamiliar with a meme, it is a humorous image, video, or piece of text that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users. YouTubers, live streamers and social media content is flooded with references to the late gorilla, and even the hashtag #HarambeLivesMatter is repeatedly used (mocking both Harambe and the #BlackLivesMatter movement).
Harambe memes have grown exponentially and have increased in frequency on all online platforms. Now it has come time for the Internet to have some respect and decency. The Cincinnati Zoo has requested that these jokes and memes come to an end.
There are a ridiculous amount of petitions that have been started by Internet trolls, suffocating the real and legitimate ones. We can discourage these kinds of memes and can only hope that the requests to destroy an Internet meme are respected. However, it will certainly be very difficult to eradicate this content from the Internet without ultimately censoring the online world. People hiding behind a computer screen tend to be a little more inclined to act “out of character”, so it will be difficult to stop the Harambe meme from continuing to circulate.
We can only hope that people who saw footage of the incident have developed empathy for animals forced to live in captivity. And maybe now they’ll think twice before retweeting or reposting that Harambe meme.