The world was shocked Monday when a police officer, Mevlut Mert Altintas, assassinated Andrey Karlov, Russian ambassador to Turkey. The human tragedy and the political implications of the killing were amplified by the visceral video and AP photographs from the scene.
You might not expect an assassination to become a popular internet meme, but it has—and it’s pushing the boundaries of decency in meme culture.
It's weird that a photo of an assassin standing over the dead body of someone he's just killed has become a meme already— Bobby Saxton For RLB (@JusticeForCatts) December 19, 2016
Aaaand I've already seen my first Turkish Assassin meme. Ugh.— Blowholio has all the TP (@Reweth) December 19, 2016
I honestly thought 2016 had shown me all she had. But then, BOOM: MurderMemes.— C. Everett Cope (@cushbomb) December 20, 2016
12/19 12:03 PM: Oh god the ambassador, its ww3— Professor table tennis (@Hegelbon) December 20, 2016
12/19 10:30 PM: 12 haunting tweet responses
12/20 8:00 AM: Handsome gun guy: 2016 Savior?
One of the main drivers of the assassin meme is the way the killer was positioned in the instantly iconic shot by AP photographer Burhan Ozbilici. Altintas, agitated and shouting about the tragedy in Aleppo, Syria, looked to cynical meme-makers like he was striking a disco pose.
The jokes were obvious:
He’s also been cast as Robbie Rotten from the infinitely meme-able Icelandic kids’ show LazyTown:
sometimes the memes are too raw, too soon pic.twitter.com/0NQpCCSZRl— bonkers in yonkers (@jimpjorps) December 20, 2016
And mashed up in dozens of other ways:
He’s also revered on various Chan-centric Facebook meme pages:
What’s the motivation for making a joke out of a serious killing, one with possible geopolitical ramifications? It’s got a lot to do with the nature of 4chan and the role memes play in our discourse.
Most would say it’s “too soon” for this shit, but meme culture is the internet’s id, expressing the darkest part of our collective sense of humor. That doesn’t make it right, but on today’s internet, nothing’s off-limits. Does that assassin look like he’s doing a pose from a video game? Post it.
Most of the images from the assassin meme aren’t articulating a coherent political point of view; the closest they get is “lol, Trump assassinated Hillary.” This is a strictly visual gag, and it exists because of the shocking nature of the scene, and because the image itself feels iconic.
Remember, shock-seeking denizens of 4chan’s /b/ have no qualms about memeing 9/11, Nazi concentration camps, Tiananmen Square, or any other serious historical iconography. Why should this be different?
At its best, it’s just a scream that something big has happened, separate from any attempt to process the event. It’s responding to confusion in the way most readily available to online culture: in-jokes and video game references.
At worst, it’s a trollish attempt to shock and appall, to show that meme culture lols in the face of death. “Look, it’s Pepe killing the Feels guy. Top kek.”
It does succeed in showing how edgy the meme-posters are, but it doesn’t really succeed as humor: It falls flat in the face of the tragedy itself.