The “What Happened To Him” meme is a popular internet phenomenon that involves depicting a sick or dying person and revealing the absurd or humorous cause of their condition. The meme has been used in various formats and contexts, often with ironic or sarcastic punchlines. In this article, we will explore the origin and meaning of the meme, its evolution and popularity, the psychology behind its humor, and its cultural and social impact.
The origin and meaning of the “What Happened To Him” meme
The meme originated from a scene in the 2011 film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, in which Harry Potter finds Voldemort as a small, skinless creature in a near-death state. Harry asks Dumbledore, “What happened to him?” and Dumbledore explains that Voldemort’s soul was split into pieces by creating Horcruxes. On January 28th, 2020, Reddit user hin2u posted a three-panel meme based on this scene, with the caption “He tried to out pizza the hut”, referring to a slogan used by Pizza Hut. The post gained over 40,000 upvotes and spawned a recaption format with users replacing the punchline with humorous causes for Voldemort’s condition.
The meme became a recurring caption and catchphrase in memes depicting a sick or dying person in which someone asks a question about the cause of their condition, which is then revealed to be something that, while not life-threatening, can trigger mental discomfort and be hard to handle if unprepared. For example, another popular format was based on a scene from the 2002 film Spider-Man, in which Peter Parker finds his uncle Ben Parker fatally shot by a criminal. The meme was captioned with various jokes, such as “He tried to go on Disney.com without his parents permission” or “He saw Squid Game”.
The evolution of the meme and its various formats
The meme has evolved and adapted to different formats and contexts over time, often using images of celebrities, fictional characters, animals, or stock photos. Some of the common formats include:
- Two Guys Carrying a Stretcher: This format uses a stock image of two men carrying a stretcher with an unconscious person on it. The caption usually follows the template “What happened to him? / He [did something ridiculous or embarrassing]”.
- IDK Punchlines: This format involves replacing the entire punchline with the word “IDK” (short for “I don’t know”). The format was popularized on Twitter in November 2021 and is often used to parody the absurdity or randomness of the meme.
- SQUID GAMES❗❗: This format parodies the viral popularity of the South Korean survival drama series Squid Game. The format usually involves adding the caption “SQUID GAMES❗❗” to scenes of characters dying or lying down after being defeated.
The comedic appeal and widespread popularity of the meme
The meme has gained widespread popularity on various social media platforms, such as Reddit, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok. The meme has also been featured on several websites and blogs, such as Know Your Meme, Imgflip, Psychology Today, and Forbes. The meme has been liked, shared, commented on, and remixed by millions of users around the world.
One of the reasons why the meme is so appealing and funny is that it uses incongruity theory, which suggests that humor arises from the contrast between what is expected and what actually happens. The meme creates a mismatch between the seriousness of the situation and the triviality or absurdity of the cause. The meme also uses exaggeration and hyperbole to amplify the effect of the contrast.
The meme’s popularity largely hinges on its ability to resonate with emotions and experiences that are universally understood. It frequently addresses subjects like death, illness, pain, fear, embarrassment, shame, guilt, regret, and failure. Such subjects are typical anxiety and stress inducers for many, particularly during periods of uncertainty and crisis. By incorporating humor into these scenarios, the meme offers a mechanism for individuals to manage their unpleasant feelings and find laughter in their adversities.
Exploring the psychology behind finding humor in uncomfortable situations
The meme also illustrates some psychological phenomena that explain how people find humor in uncomfortable situations. Some of these phenomena include:
- Benign violation theory: This theory proposes that humor occurs when something seems wrong or threatening but also harmless or acceptable at the same time. The violation creates tension or discomfort, while the benignity creates relief or amusement. The meme creates a benign violation by presenting a serious situation (such as death or illness) and a harmless or ridiculous cause (such as out pizzaing the hut or watching Squid Game).
- Cognitive reappraisal: This is a coping strategy that involves changing the way one thinks about a situation or event to reduce its emotional impact. The meme helps people to cognitively reappraise their negative situations by reframing them as jokes or absurdities. This can help people to reduce their stress, anxiety, or sadness and increase their positive emotions, such as joy, laughter, or satisfaction.
- Social comparison: This is a process that involves comparing oneself to others to evaluate one’s own abilities, achievements, or well-being. The meme allows people to engage in downward social comparison, which means comparing oneself to someone who is worse off or less fortunate. This can boost one’s self-esteem, confidence, or gratitude and make one feel better about one’s own situation.
How the meme reflects cultural and societal trends
The meme also reflects some of the cultural and societal trends that influence people’s behavior, preferences, and values. Some of these trends include:
- Internet culture: The meme is a product of internet culture, which is characterized by creativity, interactivity, virality, and remixability. The meme uses images, text, and references from various sources, such as movies, TV shows, games, celebrities, memes, or events. The meme also encourages user participation, feedback, and collaboration, as people can create, share, comment on, and remix the meme according to their own tastes and interests.
- Pop culture: The meme is influenced by pop culture, which is the collection of ideas, trends, styles, and expressions that are popular and mainstream in a given time and place. The meme often references pop culture phenomena that are widely known and recognized by many people, such as Harry Potter, Spider-Man, Pizza Hut, Disney.com, or Squid Game. The meme also reflects the preferences and tastes of different generations and demographics that consume pop culture products and services.
- Dark humor: The meme is an example of dark humor, which is a type of humor that involves making light of serious, taboo, or tragic topics that are usually considered inappropriate or offensive. Dark humor can be seen as a form of satire, irony, sarcasm, or cynicism that challenges the norms and expectations of society. Dark humor can also be used as a coping mechanism to deal with difficult or unpleasant situations or emotions.
The impact of the meme on internet culture and meme communities
The meme has had a significant impact on internet culture and meme communities in various ways. Some of these ways include:
- Inspiring creativity and innovation: The meme has inspired many users to create their own versions and variations of the meme using different images, captions, formats, and contexts. The meme has also stimulated new ideas and trends for other memes and content creation.
- Generating engagement and interaction: The meme has generated a lot of engagement and interaction among users who like, share, comment on, and remix the meme. The meme has also fostered communication and connection among users who discuss the meme’s meaning, humor, origin, or relevance.
- Influencing attitudes and opinions: The meme has influenced the attitudes and opinions of users who consume the meme. The meme can affect how users perceive themselves, others, or the world around them. The meme can also shape how users express themselves, their emotions, or their values.
The longevity of the meme and its continued relevance in online conversations
The meme has shown a remarkable longevity and continued relevance in online conversations since its inception in early 2020. The meme has survived and thrived through various changes and challenges in the online environment. Some of the factors that contribute to the longevity and relevance of the meme include:
- Adaptability and flexibility: The meme is adaptable and flexible to different formats and contexts. The meme can use any image that depicts a sick or dying person and any cause that is humorous or absurd. The meme can also adjust to different platforms, audiences, languages, or cultures.
- Relatability and universality: The meme is relatable and universal to many people who experience or witness situations or emotions that are similar to those depicted in the meme. The meme can resonate with people who face anxiety , stress , fear , pain , death , illness , failure , embarrassment , shame , guilt , regret , or other negative situations or emotions.
- Timeliness and topicality: The meme is timely and topical to current events and issues that affect many people around the world. The meme can reflect the social , political , economic , environmental , health , or cultural realities that people face in their daily lives. The meme can also comment on or critique the events or issues that are relevant or controversial in the public sphere.
The “What Happened To Him” meme provides an intriguing glimpse into the many facets of human psychology, culture, society, and the internet. It’s a wellspring of laughter and entertainment, offering insight, articulation, interaction, empathy, creativity, innovation, engagement, and influence. More than that, it’s an adaptative, timely, and relevant touchpoint.
This meme has seamlessly woven itself into online dialogues, reflecting and shaping contemporary thought, emotion, and action. It flaunts its enduring relevance by embracing evolution, readily taking on new formats and contexts as time progresses. Far from losing momentum or disappearing, it consistently enthralls and ignites the imagination of countless global users.
Indeed, the meme embodies the strength and potential of such digital creations as a new art form, a unique means of communication, and an integral part of digital culture.