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We reflect on Harambe and the memes of 2016 with Dan Ilic and Superwog ahead of BINGEFEST

Bingefest is set to take over the Sydney Opera House for an epic 24 hours this weekend, and part of this will be The Harambe Memorial Service: 2016’s Viral Hits, where Australia’s best, brightest and funniest internet stars will bring you the definitive story of what went down on the Internet in 2016 – from a dying gorilla named Harambe to activewear and Joe Biden memes.

The event will feature, among others, Dan Ilic (Fusion Network) and Theo Saidden (Superwog), as they reflect on everything viral in 2016. In anticipation of the event, we caught up with Dan and Theo to reflect on this massive, often tragic year.

Dan, Theo, thanks for joining us. So let’s jump right into this… What does Harambe mean to you?

Dan: Well, Harambe really is one of the polarising characters of 2016. And if 2016 has taught us anything, it’s that polarising characters are the best characters. And I think there’s something really special about his death that symbolises not only the divisiveness that 2016 has experienced, in social and cultural terms, but also the extent to which so much of 2016 has been completely made up. How much of it has been fictitious.

I think Harambe is more than just a story in Cincinnati about a Gorilla picking up a four year old child, it’s more about how the internet has shaped discourse across the globe, over the last couple of years. It’s pretty exciting.

Superwog: I totally agree. I mean I never though of it about it as much as Dan did. I found the response quite funny – all the random videos all over the internet that had nothing to do with Harambe. Like I’d see RIP Harambe on everything, and I thought that was really exciting how much it penetrated the internet psyche.

There was a meme recently about the shitstorm that was 2016, and how “it all started with this fucking gorilla…”. Do you think that Harambe’s death did set the tone for the year that followed?

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Dan: *laughs* Yeah I think it did. I think it really set a precedent for participation in culture in ways we’ve never seen before. I think 2016 in terms of memes, internet culture… memes kind of went mainstream. Harambe is certainly not the first mainstream meme ever, but I think in regards to internet culture being spoken about in mainstream media, Harambe is kind of “peak meme”. What’s interesting about that is that it started a conversation about how we participate in internet culture, and how much of our culture is trolling. How much truth is inside our culture that we need to take notice of.

We’ve seen this at the end of the election period, where there’s so much introspection about fake news. Everyone knows it exists. We have a term for it. It’s trolling. If you’re a digital native you know what trolling is. You know you’re being trolled. And part of jumping on the Harambe bandwagon at the beginning of the year was people trolling other people. Harambe was not only used as an easy way to make fun of people being serious on the internet, but it’s also this great disconnect between what is real and what isn’t.

Do you have any favourite memes from the year?

Superwog: Well my favourite all-time meme is this one…

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What about you Dan, was there anything this year that stuck out for you other than Harambe?

Dan: Absolutely. I think that Harambe is just a way to start a conversation about memes. There’s certainly thousands of other memes, and there’s plenty we can’t even get to in the show. One of my favourites though, and we won’t get to it in the show, it’s when George Brandis signed a letter of statement regarding the resignation of the Solicitor General, and people made fun of his signature – people took his signature and turned it into Mr. Squiggle memes.

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But my absolute favourite was the rise and fall of Ken Bone. Ken was a gentlemen who gave the last question in the town hall style presidential debate in the USA, asking a question about energy security and coal mining. He was such a character, the internet went wild for him. They loved his moustache. They loved his red sweater. They loved his glasses.

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Ken Bone became this internet superstar in the space of about 3 days, rocketing immediately after his appeared on camera and asked his question. He ended up going on Ellen, on Kimmel, going totally mainstream – people were dressing like him at the Baseball, and within a day there were Ken Bone costumes. You could dress up like him for Halloween and it was selling for US$95. And those costumes sold out in the space of a week!

And then he did a Reddit AMA, which is dangerous territory. Things can either go very well, or very badly. Ken was a big fan of digital culture, so he know how to play with Reddit, and people were really charmed by Ken Bone. The answers were witty, self referential… but then Redditors decided to go back into Ken’s Reddit history, and they found posts from him that included NSFW pictures and pornography, he’d made plenty of jokes about women’s looks and things like that. And that was the fall of Ken Bone.

The press went immediately from “Ken Bone is an Internet Darling” to “Ken Bone is not who we think he is”. It was so quick – in the space of 5 days he went from being a nobody, to being an internet superstar, to mainstream hero, to disgraced internet masterbator. It was quite extraordinary. It was a quick burn. And generally those memes are some of the best.

Looking towards the event this weekend, is there anyone on the panel you’re looking forward to bantering with?

Dan: We’ve got some great people on the panel, including Instagram comedian Celeste Barber. She has about the same amount of followers as Kylie on Instagram, and she does this great thing where she makes fun of other celebrities by posing as them. Recreating their glamorous photos, but in a very Celeste way. Celeste is just a normal human from the Central Coast who isn’t a celebrity in the traditional sense, but by making fun of celebrities, she’s really captured the minds and hearts of Instagram.

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It’s this beautiful disconnect. It’s just a fantastic juxtaposition between what’s happening in real life on the Central Coast, and what’s happening in Fake Hollywood world. So she’s on the panel and is going to be great. We’ve got Bec Shaw, who people may not know, but people will know her Twitter handle – @NoToFeminism – she’s hilarious, and he’s also a writer for SBS Comedy.

Then there’s Jenna Guillaume from Buzzfeed, who lives and breathes the internet. She is deep in internet culture and writes about it every day. And finally we have Emma Balfour, she’s just done a PhD in how memes affected the 2016 US Presidential election. We have an actual meme doctor. Who I don’t think has been on any panel anywhere in the world. So I think it’s a world exclusive.

What have you each got coming up?

Superwog: Just keeping uploading video. Working on a new live show for next year. We’ve also got a Screen Australia / Google grant, where we’re making 30 minute episodes….

Dan: I just have to say, Theo has gone totally legit. Superwog is just going off this year. I’m so proud of you!

Superwog: *laughs* Thanks heaps, I appreciate it! It’s a lot of fun, I’m really happy to be doing it.

And you Dan? How’s everything going with Fusion?

Dan: Fusion is great. It’s great to be here in America during such a tumultuous time. Fusion is of course the voice of young, diverse American millennials. As someone who is not so young anymore, I’m thrilled to be here. Because while in Australia I may not be diverse, here I am… and it’s just great to find a home where I make jokes about diversity by being an Australian in America.

And finally… What’s your favourite thing to binge?

Superwog: I’ve been binge watching The Sopranos lately!

Dan: I’m a massive podcast fan. I’m subscribed to so many – easily 150 – that I can’t keep up to date with them. And I will just stack my phone, and listen to them back to back, filled to the brim with podcasts! Podcasts have replaced my radio. And my favourite podcast at the moment is The Dollop (with Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds), which is a hilarious American History Podcast, where one guy tells a story about American History and the other guy just makes jokes about it. It’s just terrific. They recently did a tour of Australia and I learned more about Australian history on this podcast than I ever did in High School.

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The Harambe Memorial Service: 2016’s Viral Hits will take place as part of BINGEFEST, tomorrow at 3.45pm at the Sydney Opera House. For tickets and more details head HERE.

Select BINGEFEST programming will be screened via Red Bull TV. Get more details on that HERE.

Interview by Fergus Halliday. Transcription and article by Larry Heath.