Have you been spooked by the spooky skilenton? The poorly-spelled copypasta, accompanied by a dancing ASCII ghoul, has been knocking around online since roughly 2012, appearing on Steam's forums before migrating to YouTube and Twitch.
The Spooky Skelinton is only one of an army of undead memes which populate the web. Today skeletons are no longer hidden in closets, or confined safely to the grave. They're all over the internet, singing, dancing, and acting as memetic memento mori.
Skeletons are a meme in the purest sense: They continue to self-replicate without growing outdated. But why is it that they keep coming back? Do they address our fears of mortality, in a culture fixated on youth and everything new? Do they reveal that the one thing which unites us online is our mortality? Or could it just be that skeletons look really cool as ASCII art?
Popular far beyond the Halloween season, what follows is a brief timeline of the meme which refuses to die (and likely never will…after all, it's already dead):
90s-2000s: The Skeleton Dance
1996 saw the release of the 'Spooky Scary Skeletons' song, performed by musician Andrew Gold on a children's album titled Halloween Howls. The song lives on today as a viral YouTube clip, often accompanied by 'the skeleton dance', a gently weird, oddly hypnotic cartoon produced by Disney in 1929.
Ten years later, another well-known skeleton meme appeared: 'Still waiting, OP'. Used in forms when someone promises receipts but fails to deliver, it features a picture of skeleton, waiting so long that it might soon turn into dust.
Early 2010s: "One does not simply 'get off' Mr Bone's Wild Ride..."
Another meme which appeared on 4chan around 2012 involves screencaps from the game Rollercoaster Tycoon 2. Someone has created 30,696 foot roller coaster, which takes a staggering four years of in-game time to run its course. When it's finally over, passengers are led down a path which brings them straight back to the start, watched over by a sign with a smiling skeleton which reads " The ride never ends!"
The early 2010s also birthed the 'skull trumpet' meme, often referred to simply as 'Doot'. The two-second animated clip appeared on YouTube in 2011, originally clipart in Microsoft's 'Movie Maker'. Kitschy and poorly-animated (by today's standards, at least), today 'Doot' serves as a reminder of technologies past, but the meme can also convey something older, creepier and more human. As one 2014 Gawker piece observed, Doot's strength lies in its vagueness: it's up to whoever is posting it to add meaning and flesh it out.
2013: Year of Peak Skeleton
The home of emos, goths, and assorted skinny jean wearers, Tumblr has long nurtured a skeleton obsession. Figures like Jack Skellington, hero of Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas, are worshiped here, and Tumblr created the Evanescence-inspired skull rocking chair meme named " Wake me up inside (Can't wake up)," as well as the 'bone tiddies' meme which depicts two skeletons in love, one saddled with anatomically improbable bone-breasts in an effort to make the undead couple appear more heterosexual (who made Bone Tiddies, and why did they care so much about undead sexuality?).
2013 also saw the launch of Tumblr's skeleton war, a custom which continues on the platform every October. Users flood the site with skeleton memes, including skeleton wellness content (they're great at yoga, with none of those pesky tight leg tendons in the way), mobs of skeleton justice warriors and even bland motivational skeleton wisdom.
The hashtag has spawned frenzied war blogs and self-appointed leaders (Captain Von Spoop and Admiral Skelenburgh), and even restaurant chain Denny's have hijacked the tag, in one of the stranger brand hashtag involvements (one post reads " PLEDGE YOUR ALLEGIANCE TO THE SKELETON WAR. OR ELSE SKELETONS WILL BLAME US IF THEY LOSE AND PUT BONES IN ALL OF OUR SOUP. IT'S AWFUL.").
2014 onwards: the Every-skeleton
Twitter feed Da Sharez0ne explores the inner life of the 'spooky skelinton,' revealing a hapless, neurotic bag of bones, occasionally unhinged but always trying and coming back strong. An unlikely—but lovable—social justice hero, Da Sharez0ne has over 78,000 followers.
Meanwhile on Instagram, 'OMG Literally Dead' re-enacts basic bitch photo cliches but with a skeleton in place of a person, depicting its undead subject dancing, drinking, and smoking without a care (understandable, as they have no internal organs to worry about).
From copypasta mascot to its undead afterlife as a Weird Twitter hero, the Spooky Skelinton endures (" Still waiting, OP"). There's something charming–life-affirming, even–about the skeleton meme, the decrepit former person who nevertheless goes out and seizes the day.
YOLO, after all. YOLO, dear reader, and then you're a skeleton too.