Article By: Carlos Po
Harambe the gorilla. You may not have heard about him a year ago, but now a gorilla shot dead at the Cincinnati Zoo is the latest subject of the internet love machine. Typing “Harambe” into change.org, a website for creating petitions, yields various requests, from bringing those responsible for Harambe’s death to justice, to building a memorial, to making Harambe a new Pokemon. In fact, International School Manila’s very own Mr. Ben Paulson is in the process of preparing a Harambe costume for Halloween, with his wife as the zookeeper and his son as the catalytic child.
“Well I don’t know if we will actually don the costume I suggested, but it would be funny (albeit maybe in poor taste). I’m sure someone somewhere will be wearing such a costume,” he told this reporter in an email.
As the Cincinnati Zoo releases an official statement denouncing jokes about Harambe, and devoted Harambean cultists are only spurred on, tensions flare and the whole debate about gorilla idolatry seems to even become more important than the debate on how the situation should have been handled.
“We are not amused by the memes, petitions and signs about Harambe. Our zoo family is still healing, and the constant mention of Harambe makes moving forward more difficult for us,” the director of the Cincinnati Zoo was quoted as saying. How does an event that is at best an unfortunate accident, and at worst something barely worthy of a CNN ticker, gain so much traction?
In his book The Selfish Gene, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme” to mean “a self-replicating unit of culture, not unlike DNA.” According to Dawkin’s theory, ideas exhibit natural selection just like organisms in a habitat of limited resources, in that the strongest survive while the weak perish. Normally resources would mean things like food and water, but in this case, the resource is attention. The truth is that we just don’t have the collective energy to start internet crusades over every injustice, making it seem almost unfair that Harambe should get so much more attention over, say, human trafficking in Southeast Asia.
Like a child’s compulsion to climb into a gorilla enclosure, no one can understand what is going on, because, let’s face it, the whole situation is so ridiculously overblown it may as well be an article from the Onion. But with this new paradigm, we can start to understand what’s really at work here. Clearly, the idea of Harambe, unlike all the other newsworthy events that happen every day, has been “naturally selected” for having some kind of advantage.
In this writer’s opinion, which may or may not align with your own, said advantage is lack of empathy. It’s been repeated time and time again that humans only create art in fear of being forgotten by the world. In this sense, Harambe lives on. The sad tale of Harambe is removed enough from a human context that it can be ironically “memorialized” without seeming offensive. As dark as this sounds, in an age when news companies profit off of engineering fear, and political campaigns are fueled by engines of distrust and hate, sometimes a refuge in audacity is all we can do to stay positive.