Dat Boi, a 3D-ish graphic of a frog riding a unicycle, was the inexplicable meme darling of spring 2016. He was so perfectly carefree, such a non sequitur—he seemed to come from nothing, and there was no special joke or reference to get. And then… he died. Like many memes before him, Dat Boi became so overexposed that he longer seemed special. He was a victim of his own success. But now, less than a year later, Dat Boi has risen again. O shit, welcome back!
Over the weekend and into early Monday, Reddit’s popular me_irl subreddit—a bellwether for meme trends elsewhere on the internet—became obsessed with Dat Boi, bringing back classic Dat Boi memes and creating new ones. It’s like Dat Boi never left.
One clever poster, thederpytroller, even spelled out Dat Boi’s catchphrase “O Shit Waddup” in 11 separate posts that made it to the top of the subreddit. This is being hailed as one of humanity’s greatest achievements:
It’s very unusual for a dead, played-out meme to crawl—or unicycle—out of the grave as Dat Boi has this week. Then again, Dat Boi is no ordinary meme. There’s a copypasta, a block of text that people copy and paste into comments as a joke, that gets right to the heart of Dat Boi’s unique appeal:
You want to know why I love dat boi? Dat boi is a completely self-made meme. So many other memes are based in nostalgic childrens shows, funny faces, relatable situations, or references. Not dat boi. Dat boi is completely absurd. It’s a low-res frog on a unicycle, and an arbitrary method for greeting him. The first person to ever upvote dat boi did not do so out of recognition. The first person to ever upvote dat boi did not do so because a pre-existing meme format. The first person to ever upvote dat boi upvoted a meme literally pulled from the ether by sheer human creativity and willpower. Dat boi is evidence that humans can stare into the meaningless void of eternity and force their own meaning onto to it. I will always upvote dat boi, o shit waddup!
Dat Boi’s whimsical lack of grounding in the “real world” made him ideal for breaking up the election fatigue of mid-2016, but the character became inextricably associated with that moment in time. Now he’s a relic from a slightly more carefree time—or a totally different timeline, some have argued—before the death of Harambe and the election of President Trump.
The nostalgia cycle typically isn’t so quick, even in the fast-paced world of dank memes. If you try to bring something back too soon, the audience still remembers the end of the meme, not the brief time they spent enjoying it. But consider the circumstances: We’re experiencing the most fraught political climate of millennials’ lifetimes; memes, one of the primary forms of self-expression for many, are spiraling into a cycle of irony and depression with no clear end. If you can’t go forward, why not try to go back? At this point, meme culture has been around long enough to have a past, and the majority of new memes are just pastiches of old ones. Like the rest of pop culture, internet culture seems to be stuck in a loop, running out of future. The meme community often echoes hauntologist thinkers in its conviction that nothing feels truly “new” anymore. Dat Boi, made from a previously undiscovered piece of early-2000s clip art, was a rare exception.
But once he was discovered, he became like any other cultural object in the age of the internet: He could never truly die. “In conditions of digital recall, loss is itself lost,” writes Mark Fisher in his essay “The Slow Cancellation of the Future.”
We “killed” Dat Boi—and I should acknowledge here that some credit Miles Klee’s coverage of the meme on the Daily Dot as the proximate cause of his death—the same way a record company kills a pop star’s career: by splashing him everywhere until people couldn’t stand to read “O Shit Waddup” one more time. But, like everything else we were once sick of—shoutout to the release of a Power Rangers movie in the year 2017—we can’t let Dat Boi go. He’s now part of our endlessly reprocessed recent past, another ghostly character who once had a time and place but now exists in a loop outside of them.
In hauntological terms, what some are looking at as a temporary “meme drought” could actually be a symptom of “retromania,” a culture of nostalgia where nothing is ever lost and everything new is grounded in references to the past.
Internet memes were a genuinely novel and exciting medium for conveying everything from comedy to “relatable” teenage emotions to political propaganda, but it’s possible they’re not immune to the same nostalgic pitfalls that have caused the rest of pop culture to stagnate and repeat itself. As the Dat Boi copypasta makes clear, only the most extraordinary memes exist without leaning on traditional media, whether that’s Spongebob Squarepants, Lazy Town, or an ad about what to do if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma.
Dat Boi will “die” again, probably soon. After all, nothing is ever as magical the second time around. But he’ll almost certainly come around again, like everything else. Here comes Dat Boi again. And again. And again.