Top 10 Viral Pictures and Internet Memes

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The term Internet meme is used to describe a concept that spreads via the Internet.  The idea may take the form of a video, picture, website, phrase or just a word.  The meme will move from person to person via social networking websites, blogs, news sources and other web-based services.  Internet memes can spread rapidly, sometimes reaching world-wide popularity and vanishing in a few days.  Other memes are permanently inserted into popular culture.  A well received Internet video or picture can give a person Internet celebrity status.  This article is going to examine ten photographs that have become popular online and spawned Internet memes.

10. Parked Domain Girl

parked domain girl

One of the most viewed images on the Internet is the Parked Domain Girl.  The picture is used by the online media company Demand Media, who set up a business model to generate money from accidental Internet visits.  The idea is simple, buy generic or keyword-rich domain names and sell advertising space despite the lack of any useful content.  With no content, it is always a good idea to include pictures of pretty girls.  In this case, the photograph of a young blonde college woman was chosen.  The picture is a great example of the growing Internet trend in which a stock image goes viral.

The Parked Domain Girl photograph was uploaded to iStockphoto in 2005 by Dustin Steller.  After an Internet campaign was waged in order to discover the woman’s identity, it was reported that she is the sister of Dustin Steller.  The photograph was taken by Dustin in Unity Village, which is in the Kansas City area.  The picture has been used by multiple advertising campaigns.  People have created hundreds of different variations to the image.  A man named Parker Ito sent the photo to orderartwork.com, a Chinese company that produces oil paintings on demand, and has commissioned several paintings which he sells.

Interesting Fact

Another popular stock photograph is the Everywhere Girl.  Her name is Jennifer Chandra.  Chandra’s picture was originally sold to Getty Images and made famous by the companies Dell and Gateway.  Jennifer is called The Everywhere Girl because her pictures are all over the Internet.

9. Dog Poop Girl

dog poop girl

Dog Poop Girl is the name of a 2005 picture that shows a woman who refused to clean up after her dog defecated on the floor of a Seoul Metropolitan Subway car.  During the event, a passenger known as Miss Kim captured a set of photographs showing the scene.  After a towel was offered for cleanup, the woman ignored the passengers and left the subway car.  In response, Miss Kim posted the pictures on a popular Korean website.  In 2005, the Dog Poop Girl image quickly became one of the most popular searches on Korean web portals.

Internet vigilantes began to examine the picture for any clue of the woman’s identity.  Within days she had been located.  In an attempt to punish the woman, her personal information was published on the Internet.  She was linked to a specific university and the school got millions of Internet hits.  The story received mainstream attention in South Korea and the United States.  According to reports, the humiliation caused the woman to quit school.

Interesting Fact

During the event, a collection of subway riders offered the woman tissue and rags to clean up the mess.  She ignored most people, but used the tissue to wipe off her dog.  This enraged some passengers and caused the situation to escalate.

8. Saugeen Stripper

saugeen stripper

Some of the biggest photograph scandals on the Internet have involved nude pictures.  One of these cases is the Saugeen stripper.  In October 2005, a young 18-year-old woman decided to attend a birthday party in a dorm room at Saugeen-Maitland Hall, which is a co-ed students’ residence at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, Canada.  After being asked, the student decided to perform a striptease.  As you would expect, people got out their cameras.  The girl was aware that photographs were being taken.

After the party, the pictures were uploaded to the Internet and instantly spread.  The incident became the subject of articles by a number of Canadian media outlets, including the Toronto Star, The London Free Press, National Post and the local London A-Channel News.  The story was picked up by media outlets in the United States, UK and other areas of the world.  The controversial photographs started a discussion about how much control institutions have over what happens on campus.  The pictures sparked interest because some are quite graphic.

Interesting Fact

The Saugeen stripper pictures have helped validate the dirty rumors about Saugeen-Maitland Hall.  The building has always been the subject of jokes about huge parties.  UWO’s party school reputation continues to encourage kids to visit the school.

7. Ear Mouse

ear mouse

In 1997, a bizarre photograph became famous over the Internet.  It shows a hairless mouse with what appears to be a human ear growing from its back.  The picture was one of the first images to be widely spread via the Internet.  It was originally used by Joseph Vacanti and a group of scientists who have developed a procedure which involves growing cartilage over biodegradable molds to shape cartilaginous body parts, like ears.  In the late 1990s, the picture prompted a wave of protests against genetic engineering.  It should be noted that these claims are fabricated, as no genetic engineering was involved in growing the ear.

The ear structure has no human cells and was created with cow cartilage.  There is no way that the ear could have ever been transplanted to a human.  The cow cells would have been rejected by the person’s immune system.  For this reason, it was necessary for the researchers to use a nude mouse in the experiment.  A nude mouse has an extremely weak immune system.

Joseph Vacanti has continued his research and modern technology has allowed the production of human cartilage cells.  In one case, a 12-year-old boy named Sean G. McCormack, who was born with Poland’s Syndrome and no cartilage on the left side of his chest, underwent a groundbreaking operation.  The doctors scraped away protruding cartilage from McCormack and used the cells to seed a scaffold that was molded into the shape of his torso.  After receiving special approval from the Food & Drug Administration, the doctors implanted the engineered cartilage into McCormack.  Joseph’s brother Charles Vacanti has predicted that within 20 to 30 years the same procedure may allow scientists to grow any organ, for example a kidney or a liver, from a tissue sample.

Interesting Fact

On October 11, 1999, the anti-genetics group, Turning Point Project, placed a full-page ad in the New York Times showing the Ear Mouse photograph.  The misleading caption read, “This is an actual photo of a genetically engineered mouse with a human ear on its back.”

6. Cigar Guy

cigar guy

Cigar guy refers to a man who appeared in a picture taken by Daily Mail photographer Mark Pain during the 2010 Ryder Cup golf tournament at the Celtic Manor Resort in the city of Newport, Wales.  The picture captures golfer Tiger Woods attempting a chip shot near the 18th green.  Woods’ shot went wide and eventually hit Pain’s camera.  The photograph was deemed an example of remarkable timing as the image was captured right as the golf ball was going to impact the camera.  However, the most significant focus of the picture became cigar guy.  He is the golf fan standing to Tiger’s left.

In the picture, the man is seen wearing a ginger wig and a Groucho Marx style moustache while chomping on a cigar.  By October 2010, the picture was being covered internationally.  The man became known as “cigar guy” and started an internet meme.  In the meme, people have photoshopped his face into other famous sporting events.  Cigar guy’s facial expression has been described as reflecting positivity, optimism, and wide-eyed wonderment.  He clearly stands out in the picture.

Interesting Fact

After the photo went viral, one website offered a $1,000 reward to track down cigar guy’s identity.  It was revealed on Sunday, October 10 that cigar guy is Rupesh Shingadia, a 30-year-old investment analyst from south London who lives with his parents.  He was dressed as Miguel Angel Jimenez, the cigar-smoking golf player, in support of the European team.

5. Sad Keanu

Sad-Keanu

What has Keanu Reeves been up to?  His last high production film was the 2008 release The Day the Earth Stood Still.  I wonder if he is going through some sad times.  In 2010, a picture surfaced on the Internet showing Keanu Reeves looking sad while eating a sandwich alone on a bench in New York City.  The photograph spawned the Sad Keanu Internet meme.  The picture of a sullen-looking Reeves was taken sometime in May of 2010 by the Splash News photographer Ron Asadorian.  In June of 2010 sympathy for Keanu Reeves began to spread over the Internet.

Photoshopped images of a sad Keanu began to appear all over the major social networking websites.  Some of the most famous pictures show sad Keanu sitting with Forest Gump, alone in the oval office, bummed out with Kim Jong-il and sitting with Homer Simpson.  There are thousands of Sad Keanu images on the Internet.  On January 18th, 2011, the Hollywood actor briefly addressed his newfound Internet fame in a studio interview with BBC, quoted as saying: Do I wish that I didn’t get my picture taken while I was eating a sandwich on the streets of New York?  Yeah.

Interesting Fact

Following the intense wave of Sad Keanu images, a Facebook event was organized to set up a special Cheer Up Keanu Day, officially given the date of June 15th.  On June 15th you are encouraged to send the actor love letters, gifts, messages and contribute to cancer donations.

4. Qian Zhijun

Qian Zhijun

Qian Zhijun is a Chinese actor and entertainer who became famous during the Little Fatty Internet meme.  In 2003, Qian’s teacher captured a picture of him during “traffic safety day” in Jinshan District, Shanghai.  After the photograph was published on the Internet, it quickly became a popular meme.  People began to superimpose Qian’s face into various images.  This includes film posters, photographs of celebrities, and classic works of art.  Qian’s facial expression has been described as a “slightly suspicious sidelong glance and cherubic cheeks.”  A Chinese newspaper said that he was “the face that launched 1,000 clicks.”

Originally, Qian Zhijun felt embarrassed by the Internet phenomenon, but released the quote “I have tried to turn sorrow into strength.  At least it makes people smile and I have had quite a positive response from many surfers.”  Since the image of Qian became an Internet meme, he has appeared in Chinese films and hosted a festival for people with alternative body types.  La Carmina of CNN said that by late 2006 Qian had become “one of the most famous faces in China.”  As a result of the photograph, Qian went from obscurity to movie stardom.

Interesting Fact  

Clifford Coonan of The Independent said “So what does Qian’s story tell us about modern China?  Well, it reflects two of the most remarkable themes.  It shows how growing affluence has translated into a serious increase in the number of obese people.  It demonstrates how the Internet is providing a platform for creative expression that controlled media can’t begin to match.”

3. Vancouver Couple Kissing

vancouver couple

On June 15, 2011, the Boston Bruins captured their 6th Stanley Cup Championship.  In response, fans of the Vancouver Canucks started a riot in the downtown core section of Vancouver, British Columbia.  During the confrontation, at least 140 people were injured, one critically.  Four people were stabbed, nine police officers were hurt, and 101 people arrested.  The most lasting image from the 2011 Vancouver riots shows a young couple kissing in the empty street between rioters and police.  The picture was captured by Canada-based photojournalist Richard Lam.  Following the riot, the image went viral and became internationally recognized.

Richard Lam was not able to contact the couple after he captured the photograph, but the media quickly identified them as Scott Jones, 29, and his girlfriend Alexandra Thomas.  According to the official story, the couple was in downtown Vancouver watching the riot, but not participating in the event when a large collection of riot police knocked them over with shields.  After hitting the ground Alexandra was slightly injured and in distress.  To calm her down, Scott gave her a kiss, which was captured by Richard Lam.

Interesting Fact

It was initially suspected that the photograph was staged, but the entire event was captured on camera.  The video shows a large collection of riot police charging citizens and knocking Alexandra and Scott over.  Two officers then start pushing the couple into the ground.  She is clearly shaken.

2. Islamic Rage Boy

Islamic Rage Boy

Shakeel Ahmad Bhat is a professional Kashmiri Muslim Protester that was born in Kashmir, India.  He has been nicknamed the Islamic Rage Boy by Internet bloggers.  Bhat was given the label after an image surfaced that showed him yelling during a protest.  Due to his angry look, Shakeel Ahmad Bhat has become a target for photographic journalists.  He has taken part in protests against the Indian Army, Israel, Pope Benedict, Salman Rushdie, and the Muhammed cartoons.  Bhat has appeared on the front page of many newspapers.  He has become a cult figure on the Internet and been featured in the Times of India, Middle East Times, France 24 and The Sunday Mail.  Shakeel Ahmad Bhat claims that he has been detained almost 300 times since 1997.

Interesting Fact

The image of Bhat yelling is one of the most altered in Internet history.  It has been published on hundreds of pages and used in hate campaigns.  Shakeel Ahmad Bhat’s photograph has been printed on t-shirts, posters, boxer shorts, bumper stickers, mouse-pads and beer mugs.

1. Crasher Squirrel

crasher squirrel

Crasher Squirrel is the name given to a squirrel seen in a photograph that was originally intended to be a self-portrait of a Minnesota couple.  In May of 2009, a woman named Melissa Brandts and her husband Jackson were visiting Lake Minnewanka at Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada.  They decided to capture a self-portrait using the camera’s timer.  While the Brandts were posing on some rocks next to the lake using the remote shutter release, a Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel began to explore the area.  The squirrel stood up right in front of the camera’s lens as the picture was taken.  The couple was able to capture the squirrel, clearly in focus, in front of the camera.

In August 2009, the Brandts submitted the photo to the National Geographic weekly.  After the photograph appeared in National Geographic, it spread virally across the world.  The squirrel has since been used by the Banff tourism board to attract visitors to the area.  He has become an “ambassador” to the park.  In 2009, the Crasher Squirrel photograph created a large Internet meme.  People began to cut the squirrel out of the image and insert it into other photos.  The Crasher Squirrel has appeared online in pictures of official diplomatic gatherings, family portraits, and famous works of art.  He is always placed in the image so that it appears the squirrel is “crashing” the party.  A website, The Squirrelizer, was created by Graeme Hawker of Scotland to allow anyone to add the image to a photo.

Interesting Fact

The appeal of the picture is caused by a couple factors.  The squirrel is standing up and perfectly in-focus.  It has a pose reminiscent of the gopher from the movie Caddyshack with its paws held at chest level and eyes staring directly into the camera.  In Caddyshack, the gopher is elusive and always popping up in different locations.


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17 Comments

  1. Really tough to nail the “top 10” memes as there is so many. I think “top 10” was a bad name for this article based on that – just pointing out 10 memes would be good.

    Sad Keanu never fails to kill me.

  2. With all of the Internet memes, it was surprisingly hard to come up with examples that were based strictly on a photograph or a set of pictures. Most memes come from YouTube videos or television. Another name for this list could have been Top 10 Real Pictures that became Internet Memes. I am sure that many more pictures are worthy.

    Nice call, I think the Leo strut is hilarious. Other examples I came across are a picture of a girl named Allison Stokke, Oolong, Heineken Looter Guy and Tron Guy. Many Internet Memes exist that have come from invented ideas and Photoshop. Like Bert is Evil, Baidu 10 Mythical Creatures, Kermit Bale, Lolcat, Seriously McDonalds and O RLY?

    What are some of everyone else’s favorites?

  3. I think this list is very inaccurate. As a matter of fact, few of these could even be counted as meme’s and only the sad Keanu would be able to be in the list.

  4. No You Tube Hitler? And Islamic Rage Boy also appeared when the Pope quoted an Emperor who said, “Muhammad brought the world things that were,”Evil and inhuman.” And Spread Islam by the sword.” And Muslims went crazy and killed people again, like for the Satanic Verses, and Terry Jones. These people need to calm down.

  5. I would name this 10 popular internet memes.

    Things that I would most definitely put on top 10 memes (2011):
    1. LOLcats– funny/cute pictures of cats with text written with intentional bad grammar

    2. COME AT ME BRO!– A saying made popular by Jersey Shore’s Ronnie, making a provoking pose with arms extended outwards. It’s been entered into countless pictures as text.

    3. Demotivational posters– Picture inserted into a black background with depreciating humorous text.

    4. Guido Jesus– Jesus Christ! Where did this come from? No one knows. It’s not as popular as the previous 3 memes, but it is damned hilarious.

    5. Forever Alones/Troll faces/FUUUUUUU faces– I find these seldom funny; but hey, my comedic standards are just more highbrow than your average person.

    6. Sad Keanu– no need for explanation

    7. Nyan Cat– This is addicting to a lot of people. It’s a 8-bit cat with a pop tart for a body, singing an repetitive yet fun song. It’s been covered thousands of times with a variety of instruments, parodied, and inserted into many other types of media.

    8. Carmelldensan– Extremely popular with the anime community. It involves a Japanese pop song with ridiculous and repetitive dancing. Just search for it on Youtube and you will see. : )

    9. Epic Fails–Truly hysterical failures captured in an image, animated image, and/or video.

    10. Chuck Norris/Ninja jokes– These guys are so tough and awesome they defy laws of physics and human limits.

    I know for a fact I am missing some major ones, and it’s getting on my nerves. Please comment to include memes!

  6. Facepalm and Coolface are missing? And Pedobear? I don’t really know what’s so strange about the squirrel, if you know squirrels. They are lively and curious animals, of course they’ll stand in front of the camera, given half the chance. 🙂 Some of the Qian Zhijun pics were funny, that look on his face lends itself to anything! 😀

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