In folklore, one pretty much needs some amount of silver in order to defeat a werewolf, but on the internet, wolf memes have yet to expose their true weakness.
Evolving beyond the original Courage and Insanity Wolves of the early Reddit years, and even past ‘moon moon,’ the relatively new and fairly specific subgenre of doggo memes, Gen Z appears to have a primal hunger for all things wolf-filtered. How and why that came to pass is meme history.
On April 7, 2015 a wolf image was posted to Deviantart by an artist who goes by Wolfroad. Titled “Voices,” In the next few years they followed it with many other wolf images, many of which would get memed.
Wolves in general have been an on-again off off-again internet trend since way back in 2009, when a t-shirt known as “Three Wolf Moon” went viral and flew off of shelves, purchased mostly for the irony.
They even circulated as memes, photoshopped onto the bodies of famous people of the time. But their first incarnation in the modern wave of meme culture came in April 2022, when “Voices” was posted to the Facebook group Furry Fandom Latinoamerica 2.0.
It quickly grew in popularity within the furry community, but notably was also edited and then reposted to a Cheems fanpage. With the wolf altered to have Cheems coloring, Wolfroad’s art was exposed to more general memers.
By the end of May, it began to really pick up steam as it spread to Twitter, TikTok, then Tumblr. Gaining broad visibility, was piggybacked off of by both the Alpha Male/red pill crowd, as well as the emo music community.
Men’s rights groups attached wolf imagery to the burgeoning term “sigma male,”– essentially someone who prides themselves as being outside of the Alpha/beta male dynamic. They began making “sigma wolf” memes.
Simultaneously, it took emo music fans by force. On July 19th Twitter user @justnephew posted one of the first video versions. Referencing the Drain Gang, this version featured rain falling across the wolf’s image, and was captioned “this is what draining feels like” It ultimately received 3200 likes and 37k views.
It morphed into what’s now referred to as “emo wolf”, featuring images and videos of wolves, derivative of if not actually using the original deviantart images, transitioning into each other, often accompanied by Flyleaf’s “I’m so sick.”
Add into the mix a popular and new wolf transformation filter, and you have the recipe for one of the most popular movements on TikTok. They’ve become so much of a thing, that wolf memes now regularly attract the attention of big brands crafting their advertising strategies. Axe, Plush Toys, and O’Reilly Auto Parts, among others, have all posted their own iterations.
And in case it wasn’t already making you question your sense of reality, in late 2023, controversy arose over whether or not the original wolf had horns in the first place. A large cohort of wolf memers seemed to think that the original deviant art never had horns. It did.
So, wolf memes in general have become a postmodern, sometimes derisive, sometimes entirely genuine grab-bag – meta-referencing any of the above. It’s got red pillers, goth tweens, furries, dance kids, and general attention-seekers all using the same device in order to claim individuality. What’s the point? Well, the medium is the message, and in this case it’s all over the place.