Arthur from the animated cartooon(l), the Arthur fist meme(r)

Courtesy PBS

Arthur’s fist meme, explained

Though the show was canceled in 2021, this iconic meme will live until the end of time.


Alexandra Samuels


Posted on Dec 11, 2023   Updated on Dec 11, 2023, 1:06 pm CST

Over the course of its 25-year-run on PBS Kids, Arthur created a plethora of iconic memes that most of us are familiar with today. But one in particular took the internet by storm in 2016: a photo of Arthur’s fist. Though the still image came from a rather wholesome show for kids, there’s a somewhat dark backstory behind what would come to be known as the Arthur fist mem.  

Sadly, in 2021, the network canceled Arthur. According to Variety, “original show developer Kathy Waugh broke the news in an interview on the Finding DW podcast with voice actor Jason Szwimmer,” opining that she thought PBS “made a mistake” and should revive it.

Thanks to the internet, however, its memories—and memes—will live until the end of time. Here’s everything you need to know about the viral Arthur fist meme: 

Where did the meme originate?

The meme is based on a scene from the popular children’s TV show, Arthur, which according to TV Guide, the series began running on-air in 1996 and was based on books written by author Marc Brown. 

The origin of this meme came from an episode in the show’s fourth season, titled “Arthur’s Big Hit.” Somewhat ironically, the fist image originated from one of the darker moments of the show, where the titular character punches his sister, DW, for breaking his toy airplane. 

Here’s a clip if you’d like to watch the scene in full. Also, this episode was later given a rare TV-Y7 rating for cartoon violence

What does the meme mean?

Arthur’s fist is mostly used as a reaction image, meaning that it helps portray a specific emotion accompanying something else that’s been said. For the most part, the fist meme is used to showcase frustration and/or anger. 

How did the image of Arthur’s fist go viral?

The meme was first introduced to the internet by X user @AlmostJT in July 2016. Since then, it’s been used to accompany hundreds-of-thousands of posts.

On Reddit, for instance, someone user used the Arthur fist meme accompanied with the caption: “When people say ‘Hamabe was just a gorilla,’” according to Know Your Meme. The post, of course, referenced the 17-year-old male gorilla who was fatally shot after a 4-year-old fell into his enclosure. (Harambe’s death sparked a plethora of memes, too.)

X accounts like @Arthurs_hand and others increased the meme’s popularity as well. In the same year, both The Daily Dot and Paper Mag published articles about the meme craze. One article, by The Verge, even proclaimed that “The Arthur first meme is the best new meme in a long line of Arthur memes.”

Was it just Extremely Online internet users getting in on the fun?

Not exactly! Some celebrities got in on the action, too. 

Take singer John Legend, for example. In 2018, copious internet users were poking fun at the hitmaker and saying that he resembled the animated aardvark. Wanting to get in on the joke, Legend and his wife, Chrissy Teigen, paired up with Google Duo for an ad.

“I need some help. I’m trying to pick out an outfit,” Legend tells Teigen over Google Duo as she lay on their bed. After cycling through a number of outfits, the singer finally settled on one: a pair of blue pants and a yellow sweater vest, which caused Teigen to scream “Arthur!” The end of the ad shows a close-up of Legend clenching his fist, a salute to the meme. 

And in 2017, Lebron James posted a photo of the meme to his Instagram feed with the caption “mood…”

At the time, many fans took the cryptic post to mean that James was frustrated with his team. He later admitted, however, that he was simply a fan of the children’s TV show. (We’re not sure that we buy this explanation, though.) 

How can I use this meme? 

Like most memes and reaction images, there’s really no right or wrong way to use them. If you want to help ensure virality, though, it might be best to use the image when you’re frustrated or in a frustrating situation. The good (yet bad) thing about that is there are lots of occasions to use it, and people have gotten creative with it over the years. There’s no indication it’s going out of style anytime soon.

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*First Published: Dec 11, 2023, 10:49 am CST