This article first appeared in The Oxford Student on 3 June 2016.
The internet loves frogs. We have observed this fact in various memes, from the safe and reliable Kermit to the occasionally nightmarish Pepe. The most recent addition to these noble ranks is Dat Boi, who has been making the rounds on the Oxford Dank Memes Society and various other hubs of intellectual discussion. You’ve probably seen him by now (in fact he will probably be Old Memes by the time this article sees print). He’s a crudely rendered frog on a poorly compressed unicycle, generally captioned with some variation on “Here come dat boi/ o shit waddup”. On the surface he’s just another daft internet fad, but scratch that surface and you find… well, you find a daft internet fad, but one with interesting things to say about online culture and the re-appropriation of corporate art. Dat Boi is, in his own way, a tool of rebellion.
Dat Boi is, objectively speaking, total garbage. This is, in fact, the point. He is a prime example of a Dank Meme, an aesthetic defined by its self-referential lameness. To quote Ada Pospiszyl, head of the Oxford Dank Memes Society, with such a meme “repetition makes it funny. It’s like a second level of funniness… It just sort of comes from nowhere. The secret is just accepting that it’s basically quite lame, and laughing at yourself”. Dat Boi is an empty signifier, funny because he represents a wider calling card for internet communities. He is funny because meme-makers and meme-consumers, consciously or not, have designated him a symbol of humour. In that way he’s the perfect expression of post-modern comedy. Humour is defined by the unexpected, but Dat Boi is predictable, the comedy emerging from his over-signification. The core of the joke is ‘oh, not him again’, hence the weary existentialism of the phrase ‘o shit waddup’. Dat Boi is an anti-joke, funny because of his mutually agreed-upon unfunniness.
But beyond that, in his peculiarly lame way he represents a strike against the crass commercialism of so much art, especially in the internet age. The image of the frog on a unicycle was originally produced by Animation Factory, a company created during the infamous dotcom bubble of the late 1990s, as part of the Animation Factory Essential Collection 3. A classic example of faux-zany corporate humour, he was created for a collection of self-evidently ugly, self-evidently useless graphics, bearing all the cringeworthy hallmarks of late 90s graphic design. The useless creation of a useless company, the image embodies corporate culture in the information age; not art for art’s sake, but economic activity for the sake of economic activity, serving no purpose other than to give people fleeting, unfulfilling employment doing something, even if it is something stupid.
This garbage graphic only became Dat Boi once the internet got hold of him. The meme originated on Fresh Memes about the Mojave Desert and Other Delectable Cuisines, a meme-focused Facebook page. Since then he has spread like wildfire through the decentralised, chaotic networks of internet communities. Liberated from his corporate origins, Dat Boi can go from being a useless nothing of a product to a joyful symbol of humour and community. In that regard he is a positive sign of where internet culture is heading, and a welcome blow against the corporate establishment. Animation Factory supplied the image, but has long since lost control of it; the people have seized the memes of production.