Becoming a meme is the new American Dream

Ken Bone has been sponsored by Uber and is selling official T-shirts. In a world of rising inequality, is internet fame the answer to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? 

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When I was young, memes meant something. Badgers, mushrooms, moving away from the mic to breathe in – there was a time when memes were memingful in themselves, when external validation was not necessary, nor desired. Not so with Ken Bone.

Do not make me tell you who Ken Bone is – not again. But know this: four days ago Ken Bone was a man in a jumper, and now he is a man in a jumper who is selling official T-shirts featuring his face. As of today, Bone has also been sponsored by Uber to promote their new service UberSELECT. In the words of David, harrowed after the dentist, is this real life?

Bone’s official hashtag – I regret to tell you – is #bonezone. His brand new 200,000 Twitter followers make him what marketers call a “social influencer”. The red jumper that rocketed him to fame (context here) sold out within 24 hours, and now other brands want to get into the act. Whereas previously advertisers might have looked to David Beckham or Cara Delevigne to flog their latest product, now they turn to Ken Bone.  

It is not that memes have not been monetised before. Overly Attached Girlfriend and Grumpy Cat have both made a pretty penny from having funny faces, but they have never fundamentally comprised the purity of the meme. Why? Because both deserve their status and sweet, sweet internet riches. Ken Bone does not. He did nothing to deserve becoming a meme, except standing up at the second US presidential debate and momentarily distracting us from Donald Trump. 

But is this not, dear reader, the American Dream? Are not all memes created equal? Any American can stand up tomorrow and say some words while wearing a jumper, and they too can be sponsored by Uber in three to four days. They, too, can sell official T-shirts featuring their face for $19.99 (+ $11.99 shipping). In a world where rising inequality means the traditional means of acheiving the the American dream are ineffectual, is it not memification that will save us all? 

Nah, actually.

What Ken Bone really represents is the danger of making any Tom, Dick, or Harambe into a meme. The Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has long been beloved by the internet as Notorious RBG but fell out of favour this week for criticisng Colin Kaepernick's protest of not singing the national anthem. What if we had given Ken Bone this vast international platform and he turned out to be a Nazi? What if he liked to kill cats in his spare time? What if he thinks Toy Story 3 is better than Toy Story 2?

By selling out so quickly, Ken Bone has given us all what we deserve. We should never have thrust him into the limelight simply for having a moustache. Yes, memification might be Bone's American Dream, but unless we rise up now, tomorrow it will be our nightmare. 

Amelia Tait is a freelance journalist, and was previously the New Statesman's tech and digital culture writer. She tweets at @ameliargh