A vigil held for a gorilla? You bet. But Harambe is more than an animal. He’s a meme…
“Harambe was sadly taken from us, but his heart still stays in all of us.” So runs the description of the Facebook event that attracted the interest of upwards of two thousand users of the site. Whilst the physical turn out for the Candlelight Vigil for Harambe was markedly less than what the page suggests, for those that attended it was far from a joke.
On Friday 28th November the courtyard of Leeds Art Gallery was filled by those who wished to pay their respects or simply commemorate the life of the gorilla shot by Cincinnati Zoo staff on May 28th 2016, after a small boy fell into his enclosure. The decision to kill Harambe, who had turned 17 years old the day before, was widely criticised by much of the public as they took to social media to express their outrage.
In the months that followed, Harambe may have disappeared from the mainstream media but his presence on social networks remained. Facebook played a particularly large part in the organisation and publicity of the event. Organiser Matthew Walker suggested that without the social media platform it would not have been possible to stage the vigil. Walker said that his motivation was a “not too serious opportunity to bring the community together”, and he certainly succeeded as hundreds attended the event.
Walker was keen to divert praise away from himself, highlighting the fact that his event formed only the beginning of something that was very much created by the attendees. This was particularly evident during the ‘Hum for Harambe’, a tongue-in-cheek way to get all the attendees to participate together. Regardless of the satirical tone, a crowd of hundreds humming is enough to raise the hairs on the back of your neck.
Despite being based on what is ultimately an internet meme, many of those present pointed to their concern for animal welfare as a reason for why they attended. Beth, a Leeds student, said that this was an opportunity to protest an unfair infringement on animal rights. She also pointed to the fact that the youth “get a lot of bad press” and that this was an opportunity to do something peaceful and something positive.
So should we get our wicks out for Harambe? Yes we should. Friday’s vigil was more than simply a gathering to laugh about an internet meme. However trivialised the cause may have been in the last five months, surely any opportunity to come together to celebrate the life of something beautiful is one worth taking?
(Images: Matt Walker; Ben Hutchinson)