For some reason, when Harambe the gorilla was shot earlier this year, it shook the world. Social Justice Warrior and Animal Rights uproar flowed from all orifices of social media, scorching the mother of the boy who fell in the pen for not having her child on a leash. In addition, a plethora of outrage was aimed at the Cincinnati zoo over their decision to kill the 400-pound gorilla in order to save the young child. The question on the mind of all the emotionally fuming keyboard crusaders: What were they thinking valuing a human life over a non-human life when they shot poor old Harambe?
Also unexplainably – after the issue had died down – this past month saw a resurgence of Harambe on social media, and to some extent, the real world as well. This time, however, it wasn’t the left commemorating the great beast and ousting those who joke about him. Rather, Harambe’s life was remembered by the politically incorrect in the form of hilarious and satirical memes, clever tweets, and custom-made Harambe attire.
Strikingly, however, many among those who were initially dismayed when Harambe was killed later became the ones making mirthful memes, and ordering custom Harambe attire online. They realized their initial position was wrong and extreme, and like anyone, simply did not want to miss out on all the social media fun. No one wants to be on the side of an obviously losing battle, especially one that is a close third to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as the biggest joke of 2016.
As ridiculous as the Harambe issue was, it can teach a valuable lesson to the right. If we truly believe that the left has taken up a specific crazy and outrageous position, it’s not enough for us to just know it; it has to be on full display to the world, both on and off social media. Harambe showed us that the imprudent choice of issues the left takes up must be exploited using the same platforms they use to demonize those they disagree with.
The logic in a nutshell is that if the right wants to defeat the left in the culture war, the right has to use effective tactics to do so. And because the right believes that the left often takes up idiotic, emotional, and childish ideas, the right should intellectually discuss the idiocy and childishness in public, instigated by humorous fashion (literally).
People don’t want to keep supporting an issue or idea that’s been turned into a joke. It will make them more likely to abandon an initially supported issue if it’s seen as nothing more than a gag to individuals they see in public. At the least, they may take the issue less seriously, or hold a less extreme view. On top of that, people who are undecided about the issue at hand are less likely to take the serious side of something that is being facetiously exploited by the public. Safe spaces and trigger warnings are a joke. Socialism is a joke. Hillary Clinton as the president of the United States is a joke. The 300 made up genders on Tumblr are all jokes. And of course, it’s a joke to question whether or not to shoot a gorilla in order to save a young child.
Humor reaches people. And if it doesn’t reach people, it at least gets their attention. Then the conversation can supervene. There is a reason many people start out thoughtful and serious speeches with a joke – because it grasps the audience’s attention.
The memes are funny, but it’s more important that custom t-shirts, hats and other attire must also be made and worn. The issue should be brought outside the Internet echo chamber. A shirt that says “RIP Harambe” or “Trigger Warning” will almost certainly invoke conversation at some point. A Social Justice Warrior will eventually confront you about your shirt or hat, hopefully in front of a crowd. These are the best opportunities to explain why you’re right and they’rewrong in front of undecided or open-minded people. The clothes may be funny, but they’re only a tool for initiating discourse. That is exactly what makes this about striking up a serious conversation, rather than it being incendiary nonsense.
If your shirt that says “Hillary For Prison 2016” or “Socialism Sucks” offends someone, and they want you to not wear it or make jokes about it, have that conversation about why you should be allowed to wear that kind of clothing and make those kinds of jokes. A debate about your Harambe shirt can extend into one about free speech and expression, safe spaces and trigger warnings, political correctness, and the morality and value of human lives versus non-human lives.
Harambe taught us that while the left uses the emotional tools of demonization and character attacks to repel people from the right, the right could use the emotional tool of humor to help effectively wield the greater tool of reason through discourse.
Gone but never forgotten. RIP Harambe.
Josh Eisen is an undergraduate student at the University of Western Ontario. He is a writer and contributor for websites such as The Rebel Media, CIJ News and Campus Reform. Follow him on twitter @JoshEisen