“Dicks out for Harambe!”
You’ve undoubtedly heard the phrase before, whether emblazoned on a T-Shirt, coming out of the mouth of someone who is very likely a frat bro, or attached to a blatantly racist tweet online. Whether you like it or not, it’s a cultural phenomenon. But where did it come from?
On May 28, 2016, a gorilla named Harambe was shot dead when he became perceived as a threat after a 3-year-old boy fell into his enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. The gorilla’s death became the center of an Internet debate between people who argued whether or not Harambe needed to be killed, and whether or not a gorilla’s death was really more important than a kid’s life, especially a black kid’s life.
But what started as a controversial debate became a joke to many. Harambe became a hero in the eyes of the Internet, a symbol of all the horrible things that happened in 2016. After the presidential election, a (false) rumor spread that 15,000 people had written in Harambe’s name on the ballot. Not long after Harambe’s death, Twitter user @prom hacked the Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard’s Twitter account, tweeting, “Harambe – 1 Cincinnatizoo – 0” and “#DicksOutForHarambe,” among similar posts.
But this wasn’t the first time someone used the hashtag for Dicks Out For Harambe. In fact, the meme originated from 22-year-old Brandon Zaboklicki, who, under the Twitter handle @SexualJumanji, tweeted this rather bizarre tribute to the gorilla:
But Zaboklicki wasn’t about to give himself all the credit for the saying. He claimed that he had been doing a Harambe Tribute on Twitch when one of his viewers commented, “We coming into the Cincinnati Zoo with them dicks out for Harambe.” He thought it was so funny he asked his Mom to buy him a fake gun so he could compose the tweet, and the rest is history.
The tweet didn’t’ get too much traction at first — only about 250 likes and 50 retweets. But then it caught the attention of standup comedian Brandon Wardell, who popularized the meme by posting a Vine yelling “Dicks out for Harambe!” with actor Danny Trejo.
Neither Zaboklicki or Wardell expected the meme to blow up the way it did. In fact, Wardell showed some contempt for how popular it got in certain circles, especially in Greek life.
“It’s very annoying that fucking frat dudes go around yelling [it] — dudes that would’ve probably called me a ‘f*ggot’ in high school,” Wardell told Cosmopolitan. “Bros think dicks are funny and they love beating memes to the ground. So it’s a good intersection of those two things.”
Unfortunately, the meme’s popularity took an unexpectedly dark turn. Less than a month after Zaboklicki posted that fateful tweet, the meme was commandeered by the alt-right and used for increasingly racist reasons. Perhaps most infamously, Milo Yiannopoulos began using the meme, and online trolls followed suit, using the meme to compare black people to gorillas. Zaboklicki and Wardell abandoned the meme soon after.
The two tried to end the meme, but it was too late — it no longer belonged to them, but to the Internet. However, they didn’t personally feel guilty for what happened — as Wardell pointed out in his Cosmopolitan interview, the meme wasn’t originally racist, and it was never intended to be. What others did to it was out of control, and he knew it wasn’t his fault.
Zaboklicki, on the other hand, wished he could go back and do it all again, but this time differently.
“I hate being a meme, even on a small level,” he told Cosmo. “I hate it. I don’t want my life to be just this one moment I had. Several moments, sure, two, three moments, cool. But, literally, the Damn Daniel kids are going to be summed up by that moment their whole life. That dude’s going to be 43 working an office job at Vans and his boss is going to be like, ‘Damn, Daniel.’ And I would just walk out.”