Earlier this year, Harambe—the late gorilla prince from the Cincinnati Zoo—reached a critical level of meme fame after coverage of his murder spawned a hyperbolic discussion of ethics around animal captivity. For anyone with a brain, it became quickly apparent that for every legitimate PETA-sponsored ad or post from an animal rights activist, there were 99 other people who didn't actually care that he was killed at all. To many, the outrage itself was the joke.
In just a week, posts began to show that the serious discussion around Harambe was, like the gorilla himself, dead. What was once a flashpoint to talk about endangered species quickly devolved into Harambe being photoshopped into portraits of Jesus Christ. People made tribute songs and videos about Harambe in heaven—some even made social media pages in his honour, comparing him to generational greats like Barack Obama and Steve Jobs.
Yesterday evening, almost five months after the tender animal's death, I found myself standing in the middle of Lake Devo—a man-made pond in the middle of Toronto's Ryerson University campus—waiting for a Harambe candlelight vigil to begin. I wasn't expecting much: at 6:50 PM, ten minutes shy of when the Facebook page said the event would start, there was no crowd in sight. Instead, the only people identifiably there for the event were a few guys taping up the letters H-A-R-A-M-B-E to one of the large stones in the middle of the now dried-out pond.
By that time, 2,000 people had signed up for the event on Facebook. Even at the most pointless of social media events, one can generally expect five to ten percent of their RSVP'd audience to show (at least, that's been my experience when throwing last-minute birthday parties). But here, there was nobody. Students passed by, some stopped to take photos of the gorilla's name, but life went on as usual. People didn't care for Harambe as much as they did for his online memeage.
Right before I was ready to pack it in, however, there was a howl.
A man-bro, no more than 20-something-years-old and rocking a terrible American Eagle graphic tee, ran into the concrete bowl with a cameraman in pursuit. He scaled the large rock quickly, ripped his shirt off, and began to beat his chest while howling in a perched position—much like Harambe would have when he was alive. It was at this time that the first wave of people stepped out from the passing masses of people on Gould Street and began to collect around the centre of the pond.
"DICKS OUT," one man yelled, followed by the sound of a microphone crackling on. Other people began to pipe in as well. "DICKS OUT! DICKS OUT! DICKS OUT!"
"Everyone, please come and grab your candles," Mustafa Malick, a Ryerson student and the event's organizer, said calmly through the speakers.
"For those who have lit their candles already, please blow them out. We want to light them all at once. Have respect for Harambe."
Within minutes, nearly 100 people had filled the pond, almost all of them with candles in hand. Phones began to unlock like popcorn throughout the crowd—some took selfies, others began to record their friends' poor attempts at stand-up comedy via Snapchat. The commotion was so evident that people nearby began to stop in the street, trying to figure out what the fuck was happening.
"Is this for Drake?" one woman asked me, curious if it was a redux of last year's surprise concert from Drizzy that happened around the same time. "It's for Harambe," I told her, which I thought would cause confusion but actually got her excited.
"Harambe? This is for Harambe? Oh my god! I'm gonna call my friend."
Over the course of the next hour, there were speeches, poetry, song, and dance. At one point, a guy who was clambering to have the microphone went up to read off a copy-and-pasted remix of Kanye West's "I Love Kanye," where "Kanye" is replaced by "Harambe." Before he could finish mumbling his way through the text on his phone, the crowd drowned him out.
"DICKS OUT! DICKS OUT! DICKS OUT! DICKS OUT!"
At the end, no dicks actually came out (although one guy did suggest doing it, which the crowd decided was a bad idea), but one thing was clear: people really did care about Harambe.
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