At this very moment, there are at least 39 people walking this earth with a Baby Yoda tattoo. I know this because of the helpfully headlined article, “39 Tattoos of Baby Yoda That Prove We’re All Obsessed With The Mandalorian”, which showcases a sad Yoda, a stern Yoda, a dancing Yoda, and a Yoda eating a frog, among other bébés. If you cast your mind back to 5,000 years ago – December 2019, to be precise – you’ll remember that Baby Yoda was once an incredibly popular meme. Less so, now.
It’s easy to imagine that people who get meme tattoos are filled with regret. All tattoos age, but the fragility of memes means that the joke may begin to fade long before the ink does. Yet do people who are impulsive enough to get meme tattoos actually care? To find out, I spoke to the “someones” in everyone’s favourite “Someone Got A Tattoo Of” viral news headlines.
Christine, 31, “Trollface”
Early memes remain some of the most recognisable, because before our current era of Pretending Everything Is Funny To Distract Us From Current Affairs (PEIFTDUFCA), a good meme would have to last us months, if not years. You’ll undoubtedly recognise the tattoo near 31-year-old Christine’s armpit: a ghoulish, grinning trollface that was part of the rage comics popular on Reddit and 4Chan in the late 2000s.
“I was a teenager when I got it and I think a lot of alcohol was involved,” Christine explains of her motivation to get the tat, “I don’t know why I get a lot of tattoos.” Christine says there’s “no real reason” why she got the trollface inked, but she was “careless” at the time, allowing a friend who wanted to get a tattoo parlour to practice on her for free. She says friends found the tattoo funny but not all of them recognised the face, as “not everybody was super into memes back then like they are now.”
Nowadays, Christine says the trollface doesn’t bother her because it’s easy to hide, although she thinks she’ll probably get it covered-up eventually for aesthetic reasons (as it doesn’t match the rest of her tattoos). “I don’t really regret any tattoos because they’re all just kind of silly, I don’t take it seriously,” she says. “At the time it was funny and new, now I guess I should be embarrassed, but I’m not,” she laughs.
Matty, 40, "Left Shark”
Five years ago, at Katy Perry’s Super Bowl XLIX halftime performance, a clumsy shark stole the show and our hearts. “Left Shark” was a man in a seven-foot shark costume who seemed completely unable to dance in time to the music. Due to the popularity of the Super Bowl, this was one of the first memes that seemed to capture everyone, everywhere, and as such it was immediately capitalised upon. Within six days, Perry’s lawyers sent cease and desist letters to people selling unofficial left shark merchandise online. But five days before that, 40-year-old Matty got left shark tattooed on his ankle.
“It wasn’t super premeditated,” Matty explains. Because his surname is “Clark” he is often nicknamed “Shark”, meaning a tattoo artist friend joked he should get the meme commemorated on his body. “People were tagging me on Instagram because it was a shark-related thing and my buddy drew up a tattoo and I got it the next day. We weren’t trying to capitalise on anything really, it was just a dumb idea that happened real fast.” He estimates the tattoo took 15 minutes and cost less than $100.
“Once it started blowing up and getting attention, it was a fun week,” says Matty, whose tattoo made headlines, was shared online by Katy Perry, and was mentioned on late night American talk shows. “The ego in you makes you feel like, ‘They’re talking about me!’ but at the end of the day they’re making fun saying, ‘What kind of idiot would get a tattoo like this?’”. Matty says this didn’t hurt his feelings, “but at the same time, you know, it is on my body.”
Matty says the meme died out quickly, but half a decade later, he now considers the tattoo a “souvenir of a real weird six weeks”. He says half of the people who see the tattoo nowadays do recognise it, but others just see it as a cartoon shark. “It seemed like it was the most important thing on earth for like a week, but then the world moved on”.
Anonymous, 23, “RIP Harambe”
There are those of us who are cursed to be celebrated in death, not in life – Van Gogh, Galileo, Harambe. If you are somehow unfamiliar with the last of those legends, Harambe was a 17-year-old gorilla who was shot to death in May 2016 after a child fell into his zoo enclosure in Cincinnati. Immediately, the ape became a meme – #RIPHarambe trended across the globe, myths spread that Harambe got 11,000 votes for president, and an anonymous young college student sat down to get the gorilla tattooed on his thigh.
“My tattoo artist and I had both been partaking in the smoking of marijuana,” says the anonymous Harambe-haver, who got the tattoo a week after the gorilla’s death when he was already in the tattoo parlour having another piece of art worked on. The tattoo artist confessed that he wanted to do a Harambe tattoo, and so our anonymous tattoo-ee told him to “throw it on” him.
“It was his idea and I was all for it,” says the 23-year-old, “It was a party trick, it was a gag.” At the time, the then-student used to go to parties where people would “take a shot for Harambe”, and he says the meme was a fun thing to be involved in during the tumultuous American election. “I’m not gonna say it brought everyone together, but it kind of did.”
Yet nine months after being tattooed, the student decided the tattoo had “run its course” – he describes it as “dumb” and “not as funny as it once was”. He returned to his artist and got Harambe covered up with a black stormtrooper from Star Wars. “I’m not a big Star Wars guy but the picture looked cool.”
Asked what advice he would give to anyone else considering a meme tattoo, our anonymous friend says: “do it”. He adds that it might be best to get a meme tattoo in a less visible area on your body to avoid judgment.
Daniel, 30, “The Dress” and “Damn, Daniel”
The dress – was it black? Was it gold? Was it white? Was it blue? Unless you’ve discovered a time machine and also somehow got that time machine stuck in 2015, it’s likely you don’t care. Yet 30-year-old Daniel won’t forget the meme in a hurry, thanks to the fact it’s tattooed near his knee.
“I got it cause it was such a frustrating argument,” says Daniel, who got the tattoo the day after he found out about the meme. He saw the dress as blue and black originally, but “one night after a few drinks” saw it as white and gold (the tattoo depicts the dress in the former colours). Because Daniel works in a tattoo shop, the tattoo was free.
“Everyone thought it was funny, the only people who said I would regret it were ignorant, close-minded people,” Daniel says. He says he doesn’t think about the tattoo often because it’s never really in his eyeline, and he is “75% covered in tattoos”.
A year later, Daniel got another meme tattoo – this time celebrating the “Damn, Daniel” Vine that saw our eponymous hero praised for his “white Vans”. Daniel (of tattooed, not Vine, fame) says he doesn’t have a favourite between his two meme tattoos, but this one “was less of a big deal because people didn’t hate this meme as much.”
Daniel got the “Damn, Daniel” tattoo because he’s named Daniel – a sentence I shouldn’t have to type. He explains that he would rather have a unique piece of art than be one of the hundreds of people who have the same tattoo design from Pinterest. He also says he’ll get another meme tattoo if the meme in question is “good enough”, and if he has enough space left on his body. “I don’t regret either,” he says of his inked memes, “Tattoos are just things to look at.”
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.