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MEMES, Part 1: Kilroy was here36:05
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(Rory Panagatopolis for WBUR)
(Rory Panagatopolis for WBUR)

We often think of memes as living solely online. But the term “meme” was coined in the 1970s — before the birth of the internet — by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. And, more surprisingly, the image that's often considered to "the first meme" appeared as early as the 1940s.

A figure with a bulbous head and sausage fingers, peering over a wall, mysteriously popped up all over the globe during World War II, accompanied with three simple words: “Kilroy Was Here.” The phrase’s original meaning may come from the belly of warships, but what it came to represent bears many characteristics of a true-blue internet meme. In the first episode of our meme series, we tell the story of where "Kilroy Was Here" came from, how it spread, and what it tells us about the essence of memes.

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Full Transcript:

This content was originally created for audio. The transcript has been edited from our original script for clarity. Heads up that some elements (i.e. music, sound effects, tone) are harder to translate to text. 

Ben Brock Johnson: A few years ago, a man named Phil Edwards was looking for a secret treasure from World War II, even though he felt no real deep connection to World War II. It was something he was doing for work.

Amory Sivertson: Phil’s work?

Ben: I feel like a certain set of people you are so famous for. Do you know what I mean? Like they're like like God. Like you make the explainers, you make the Vox explainers.

Amory: Yep. Phil makes those explainer videos for Vox.

Ben: But his official title?

Phil: I'm very proud that I got ephemera correspondent on my business cards.

Ben: Phil’s search for this secret treasure was for a video he was making. About something that was ephemeral back in World War II. Even though it still has echoes all over today’s world. The digital world. And the real world.

Phil: I had just moved to Washington, D.C., and I'd heard that there was this secret hidden at the World War two memorial. And that automatically intrigued me because any time there's a secret, I want to hunt it down and see what it is. And so I walked down to the World War two memorial and it's this very serious, beautiful monument. But it's a big deal and it's very solemn. 

Ben: Can you remind us what it looks like? 

Phil: It's a set of columns arranged in the circle and there at the other end of the National Mall opposite the Lincoln Memorial and near the Washington Monument. And so it's very imposing, these tall stone columns. And they all have labels of different states on them, representing everyone who went and fought and died in World War Two.

Phil: It's very beautiful. But I had heard that there was this secret thing hidden around the corner and so I go, I'm looking for it, I don't see it.

Ben: The "it" here was not the memorial itself. Phil didn’t feel much of a connection to that. It felt too abstract. But this secret treasure he was looking for? THAT is what drew him to this monument. And what moved him. Once he found it.

Phil: And I finally peek around and over a fence just beyond it. Kind of hidden in the corner is a little drawing, and it's of a man peeking over a wall, his giant nose is kind of hanging over it and under it, it says Kilroy was here.

This July 30, 2009 photo shows the graffiti "Kilroy was here" made famous by US GI's during WWII and engraved on a panel at the WWII Memorial in Washington, DC. (Karen Bleier/AFP via Getty Images)
This July 30, 2009 photo shows the graffiti "Kilroy was here" made famous by US GI's during WWII and engraved on a panel at the WWII Memorial in Washington, DC. (Karen Bleier/AFP via Getty Images)

Amory: Kilroy was here. Hiding in plain sight on the World War II memorial in Washington D.C. A little image with text. Staring back at him.

Phil: The eyes are basically usually two dots. In some cases they're drawn differently, but two dots and then it's just a line drawing.

Ben: The line drawing is extremely spare. It’s this little bald head with beady eyes and a big droopy nose and two sets of little fingers. All peering over a horizontal line that looks like a wall. Even though it’s meant to feel like a secret, it’s not. The image and text is literally carved into the stone of this memorial.

Phil: This was part of the design of the monument from the beginning. And, I was really interested in how something so ephemeral as this graffiti could make it onto a monument and actually endure to be like a part of World War Two history.

Amory: This graffiti is part of World War II history because, during the war, this little doodle wasn’t just here.

Phil: I mean, he ends up everywhere.

Ben: Everywhere as in ALL OVER THE GLOBE. And yet, for a long time, nobody knew why. Where it came from. It was just this recurring, mysterious piece of graffiti. Sometimes the text changed. There were different versions of the image. But the basic building blocks were always recognizable.

Amory: And this guy Phil, the ephemera correspondent for Vox? He’s been slightly obsessed ever since he found out about it.

Ben: Honestly so have we. Because it represents what many believe to be the FIRST example of something — something that is really common decades later in a totally different digital context.

Ben: What did you start to learn about this figure?

Phil: I guess what I learned is that it was really similar to a modern meme in a lot of key ways, where, like, the origins are murky in the beginning and then it's everywhere. There are different variations, country by country. And then eventually even places like Hollywood are trying to capitalize on this meme and make it into a bigger thing. So there's just so many different similarities to the way that memes kind of churned through the culture today. 

Amory: I’m Amory Sivertson…

Ben: I’m Ben Brock Johnson, and once again we are asking you to listen to Endless Thread.

Amory: Which is coming back to you from WBUR, Boston’s NPR Station. How do you do, fellow kids?

Ben: We arrive with a new set of stories in hand about something that has become a building block of the internet as we now experience it. Something that...might actually be a lot more important than we realize. Because it’s having a fundamental impact on how we as humans communicate.

Amory: And that communication has power. To impact our personal lives...and even define our recent collective lived experience.

And maybe change the course of history. In big ways and small.

Ben: MEMES! We’re talking, of course, about Memes! And today we want to start with Kilroy which, 80 years later, is for people like Phil, a secret treasure. With mysterious origins. Mysterious for us, and even for the people who were around during its meteoric rise in popular culture.

Amory: Kilroy also has a record of mutation, of changing and morphing over time. With different levels of importance, and layers of meaning. So we’re going to learn more about Kilroy. And dang it, we’re going to figure out where he came from. And why he exists. Because he is arguably the first real meme.

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Ben: But what do we MEAN when we say MEME? These days, we usually mean a photo, sometimes a screen-grab from a video, but a still image with that bold, white font on it.

Amory: IMPACT FONT baby. And that image can be anything. It can be Spongebob Squarepants.

Ben: And often is...

Amory: It can be a puppet. It can be the fist of an anthropomorphic cartoon aardvark named Arthur.

Ben: Or a kid swinging a stick in his garage pretending to be Darth Maul. Or ACTUAL Star Wars characters Anakin and Padme.

Amory: One of my personal favorites.

Ben: The term MEME was coined by an evolutionary biologist in the 1970s named Richard Dawkins. Remember that name because you’re going to hear it more than once. Richard Dawkins. See?

Amory: But even though the term is itself 40 years old, memes are still pretty hard to define. Even by the experts.

Ben: And we talked to SEVERAL experts! What do you call more than two meme experts? A meme chorus?

Amory: Meme-oogle? Meme-opoly? Meme team? Anyway...we got one. A group of academics and meme-ographers who think about, write about, eat, sleep, and breathe memes.

Ben: Meme chorus. I like that. Should we meme chorus it up Amory?

Amory: YES

Ben + Amory: (SINGING)

Joan Donovan: A meme is a unit of culture

Don Caldwell: A meme would be a unit of culturally transmitted information. That would be the simplest, broadest definition of meme that I could get, that I would go with.

Kenyatta Cheese: A meme is an idea that spreads from person to person. Node to node.

Joan: Person to person or from generation to generation.

Sarah Laiola: A style of communication that is created with awareness of other iterations of that thing.

Kenyatta: And sometimes we put ideas out there and then somebody takes a look and says, oh, I like that idea, but I can think of a better one.

Sarah: And so it’s replicable, spreadable 

Gianluca Stringhini: This is something that maybe it is hard to understand for people who grew up without the Internet or are not familiar with this type of immediate communication.

Joan: The way we experience memes in the contemporary moment is through pictures on the Internet.

Don: pictures with text on them.

Kenyatta: image macro

Sarah: image macro with impact font

Joan: But

Sarah: But

Gianluca: But

Kenyatta: But

Don: I think that's that's too narrow of a definition.

Joan: memes could be viral slogans.

Don: commercial jingles

Joan: they can be

Don: fashion trends

Joan: ideas

Don: religions

Joan: a way to exist in the world.

Ben: You'll get to know these chorus members throughout our meme series. People like Don Caldwell, the editor-in-chief of the popular site "Know Your Meme"

Ben: You think that memes are are bigger than the Internet. So what's like-- what's an example of memes that came before?

Don: With memes that came before the Internet, there's a there's a really old meme that was called Kilroy Was Here. And that just spread through people seeing the symbol of this Kilroy character and kept replicating it by drawing it elsewhere. And that really resembles the way that a lot of Internet memes work.

Amory: OK. So taking the broad strokes from our meme chorus, we know that "Kilroy was here," the words and the image of the guy with the nose peeking over the wall, was arguably a meme in part because it spread not through any truly unified campaign. It wasn’t war propaganda. It was a meme because it just seems to have spread organically.

Ben: One could even say virally. And even before people were using going viral like we do, a New York Times article described Kilroy Was Here as a CONTAGIOUS PHRASE. And this contagion spread fast.

Amory: Which is a bit strange when you think about what’s going on during this period of global chaos. Millions of people are dying. The world is on fire. And here’s this goofy phrase. With a goofy drawing. That is popping up EVERYWHERE — Kilroy was in Okinawa, Kilroy was in Casablanca, Kilroy was in Sicily.

Ben: These are all on the list.

Phil: He's everywhere that people are fighting because. There's this original seed of the meme, but then very quickly, soldiers and others who are serving in the war take on this idea of of Kilroy as this sort of mythical figure that has been literally everywhere. So, you know, they start scrawling it in the most unusual places that they can find. So let's say somebody is is finding a cottage in France and they sneak up to a rafter. They might scrawl it there just on the off chance that somebody else would find it and realize, oh, Kilroy was here, too.

Ben: The Kilroy doodle was super EASY to draw. Straight horizontal line? Easy. And then the fingers sticking over it — totally cartoonish. The nose too.

Amory: It’s sort of like... if a marshmallow took human form. And it would have to be easy to draw for it to be spread by regular GIs — who for some reason are taking time out of their days, which for many of these young soldiers are filled with death and fear in unfamiliar places with no trip home in sight — they’re picking up a piece of charcoal from the campfire, or pulling out a crayon, and doodling this kind of odd funny little guy.

Ben: Looking back at this phenomenon, the words in the meme itself are a non-sequitur. There’s no clear meaning or message at first blush. In fact, just the random appearance of it WAS the joke. A silly random image for a dead serious era. Something recognizable in a world that was anything but.

Amory: Kilroy’s origin definitely seemed to be among the allied forces. But beyond that it was super vague. Kilroy's simplicity as an image and the silly vague quality of the image both became superpowers. Turns out, vagueness is part of what makes a LOT of memes travel into the atmosphere, the ether, and stay there. Meme Chorus Time!

Joan: Great memes invite you to remix them...

Gianluca: one of the elements that go with longevity and so on is how much can a meme get taken out of context, so to speak, and still work?

Kenyatta: The context does collapse over time.

Amory: As the Kilroy doodle spread, it did something else that is common among memes that really take off: It morphed. Evolved. As soldiers deploying all over the world adopted Kilroy, they remixed him to reflect their OWN experiences. This of course also makes it even harder to figure out exactly where the doodle and phrase we recognize now came from.

Phil: In England, there was this little meme called Mr. Chad. And he looks basically just like Kilroy does. But instead of saying Kilroy was here, he would kind of have complaints about his rations written underneath. I don't you know, so like Mr. Chad would say, like, "Wot, no, you know, no meat" or "no coffee," you know, or something like that underneath him. But the the accent that I'm giving him is because when I read about it, the wot is kind of spelled w-o-t so I feel like, you know, I feel like that's the way you have to read that.

BEN: No, you did great. Like, wot? Wot?

Ben: Kilroy got folded into the legends that allied forces told themselves, and each other, about their advances in the war.

Phil: There are stories, that Stalin would be going to the bathroom at the Potsdam Conference. And then he would see Kilroy was here scrawled on the bathroom wall and think that it was some American agent that was out to get him. There were rumors that Hitler ran into it, you know, when he was like walking down the street somewhere. I don't know if any of these are true, but they're good stories.

Amory: Anytime something like this enters the mainstream so thoroughly … someone is going to try to capitalize on it right? Today we see brands diving in on popular memes to pretty mixed results. And this happened with Kilroy, too. Is there a creepy recorded song that makes no real sense named Kilroy Was Here? WHY YES, YES THERE IS.

Phil: It's a duet between a woman who is singing in a really weird Betty Boop like voice, ultra falsetto, and then a guy who is singing in a totally goofy version of Kilroy.

Ben: Can you give us a stanza?

Phil: All I remember right now is is Kilroy's refrain. He says, "I'm Kilroy." Just like that.

Ben: Did Hollywood get a piece of Kilroy? YOU KNOW THEY DID. A movie of the same name. About a hapless veteran named John J. Kilroy, who just can’t catch a break because, welp, he’s famous.

Ben: How about a platinum selling rock opera album by the band Styx? Featuring…

[DOMO ARIGATO MR. ROBOTO]

Ben: Yes. The 1983 synthesizer-packed concept album this song was on was called "Kilroy was here."

Amory: Orrrrr perhaps you’re more partial to the OUTKAST song "Jazzy Belle?" Which has Andre 3000 referencing the figure’s peering pose…

[Over the years I’ve been up on my toes and yes I seen thangs like Kilroy]

Ben: 1996! ATLiens! A millennial classic.

Amory: Maybe a sliiiiightly more recent reference would be the horror anthology by Kevin Smith called, yes …

Ben: KILROY WAS HERE. Haven’t seen it. Don’t know why it’s called that. Looks pretty bad, to be honest.

Amory: So everyone eventually knew that, generally speaking, Kilroy was here. But WHAT DOES IT MEAAAANNN? AND WHERE DID IT COME FROM?

Ben: The moment you have been waiting for! Amory...drum roll…

Amory: BBBRRRRRRRRAP

Ben: We found out! And we’re gonna tell you! In onnnneee minute.

Amory: And I'm going to work on rolling my Rs...

[BREAK]

Ben: There is something delicious about knowing the origin of a meme.

Amory: Delicious is not the word I would use? But I think I know what you mean.

Ben: Right? While it is definitely true that part of the point of memes as we know them is to basically become applicable in lots and lots and lots of different scenarios — to be divorced from their original context — knowing the original context itself is in its own right a kind of badge of honor. It’s like the primary layer of this form of communication that has become all about multiple layers.

Amory: Determining the origin of an internet meme is one thing. There’s a digital trail. Kilroy is a totally different beast. Because it’s PRE-internet and also organic and chaotic in how it morphed over time. Which is part of why it’s been hard to figure out exactly where it came from. Without our massive catalogue-able searchable machine-readable trove of information, you can’t really just do a reverse image search.

Ben: In fact, the only way we HAVE a pretty good idea of who the real Kilroy was, is…

Amory: AHEM

Ben: The Radio.

Amory: JUUUUUST SAYIN'.

Ben: It’s true. Eventually Kilroy graffiti, scrawled all over the world, turned into legends about spooking Stalin in a stall into a hit single, a feature length FILM, became popular enough that someone started asking... where the hell did this thing come from?

Amory: Specifically, someone at what was at the time called the American Transit Association. Which started a contest on the radio in 1946. To find the REAL Kilroy.

Ben: And in December of that year, they did! Supposedly. A guy named James J. Kilroy stepped forward. Though, our Kilroy Vox Explainer video guy Phil... wasn’t so sure. Along with Kilroy and the British version, Mr. Chad, there were these OTHER versions from Australia, and they seemed to come from World War One.

Amory: They were different though. One was called SMOE. And was written...as SMOE was here. Another was called FOO. FOO was here. F-O-O was apparently a bit more of a mischievous character. And the name may have stood for Forward Operating Officer. It’s all pretty thin on details. But these forms — just the phrase, no drawing — supposedly came before Kilroy.

Phil: So, this is one of the reasons that I'm not quite willing to go all in on James J. Kilroy being Kilroy. I'm like 80 percent of the way there, but just not a full hundred percent.

Amory: You know who is a hundred percent though? A couple of people in our OWN backyard.

Margaret Laforest: That's confirmed. 

Leo: That's that's what happened right here in Quincy. But that's a fact.

Margaret: That was where it originated.

Ben: A while back, Amory and I went to the spot where the original Kilroy first popped up.

Amory: (sings) Check check check... check. 

Ben: Amory was running the recording kit. We were on the waterfront in Boston. Quincy, technically.

Ben: And we are in like a huge shipyard that I have never been to. But it's like so industrial.

Ben: Like, so industrial. There’s a power station, silos, piers…

Amory: We’re looking for a battleship. And even for a couple of public radio nerds, it is not hard to find.

Ben and Amory at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts, which is believed to be where the famous WWII phrase "Kilroy was here" originated.
Ben and Amory at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts, which is believed to be where the famous WWII phrase "Kilroy was here" originated.

Amory: The USS Salem is very majestic. I mean, it looks it looks ready for battle.

Ben: Mmm, debatable. It looks like it's been parked for a very long time. But look at all those, um, lots of guns,

Amory: Look at all those cannons

Ben: Big guns. 

Ben: The USS Salem is technically not a battleship but a heavy cruiser commissioned in the 1940s. And we are boarding her, gingerly, via gangplank.

Amory: I'm just hoping we're allowed to just walk up, right? 

Ben: Well, they'll probably shoot us--

Amory: This very steep ramp--

Ben: If they point one of the cannons at us, we'll know.

Amory: We didn’t get cannoned, got up the gangplank of this heavy cruiser to find the TRUE origin of this secret treasure — this original meme that went around the world.

Ben: We made it all the way into the Admiral’s Cabin.

Amory: We got to know Margaret Laforest, president of the Board of Directors at the US Naval Shipbuilding Museum, a.k.a. the USS Salem. Which has been parked at this pier since 1994. Never got a parking ticket either. Gotta be a record for Boston.

Ben: Also with us is an old-timer named Leo. Who worked right here in the Quincy Shipyard 60 years ago after serving in the military. Today, he’s a volunteer at the museum. Who wears a black veteran’s hat over a hardscrabble New Englander face, with a hardscrabble New Englander sound.

Ben: Can you describe the job that you were doing in the shipyard when you first got here? Like, what kind of what was the job?

Leo: I was a ship fitter.

Ben: What's a ship fitter do?

Leo: While I actually fit it together? Wouldn't the bottom of the base and there was all you had was you blocked off the ship set on. So the first thing they brought down would be the plates. You have brackets and you attach the plate all the way along in the bottom of the basin.

Amory: Leo was down in the belly of the boats, attaching the first pieces of those boat-bellies together. And back then, there were a LOT of people building a LOT of boats.

Leo: When I was in the yard in the late 50s, it was about six thousand people in the yard at the time. But during World War Two, this yard had thirty thousand men and women.

Ben: One of those 30 thousand people doing this work? James J. Kilroy. James Kilroy was also working in the belly of the boats, where people were welding and riveting.

Leo: The riveters worked here. They worked on incentive. More rivets you put in, more money you got.

Amory: Which led to an issue. Disputes about how many rivets or welds were getting done by that group of workers. When inspectors would come through and check riveters’ work, they would scrawl proof with chalk markings.

Leo: So they didn't want to double pay them. So Kilroy would go down and he would count the rivets for, like you just did right on the bulkhead. Kilroy was here, so they knew that he counted that compartment.

Ben: But in the somewhat chaotic 30-thousand-person operation, some welders and riveters got smart and started wiping the chalk off, so that they’d get paid for doing NEW work that was actually OLD work. Which, of course, the bosses were not too pleased about.

Amory: So James Kilroy started writing his inspection note not in chalk, but in yellow grease crayon, which was harder to erase. This was a time when war boats were flying out of the slipways of Quincy shipyard into the ocean. As Leo likes to say…

Leo and Amory: More tonnage than any shipyard in the country.

Ben: That tonnage was COVERED in one statement, which you already know. And partly because these ships were flying out of the shipyard so fast, they didn’t have time for finishing touches.

Leo: Some of these compartments never got painted. They were building the ship so fast, the guys are laying in their bunks and they see 'Kilroy was here.'

Amory: At this point, it was just the words — no little guy peaking over the wall. YET. Margaret says that’s where the confusion comes from.

Margaret: the Kilroy was here, that line the GIs taking, that phrase, that originated here. What I understand kind of the controversy about was, was Kilroy using the character of the chad and that then getting added to the Kilroy, did that part originate here?

Ben: So the words originated here, but the image of the person looking over the wall... 

Margaret: Was later, I believe later added. 

Amory: OK, we grant you that Margaret might not sound TOO sure there. But she speaks with some authority, because she’s been speaking about Kilroy for a long time. Back in middle school, her class did a bunch of oral histories on the shipyard as it was closing and they played on local public access TV.

Margaret: So if you would like to tune into TV and into their archives, you can see my great 80s hair and relive those interviews. 

B: OH YES, MARGARET. WE WOULD. AND WE DID.

Classmate: How long does your father work in a shipyard? 

Kathy Kilroy Needham: He went to work in the shipyard in nineteen forty one, as a matter of fact, a couple of days before Pearl Harbor, before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

Amory: Margaret and her classmates interviewed Kathy Kilroy Needham, James’ daughter.

Classmate: Can you tell us any stories?

Kathy: Well, the Kilroy Was Here story was the biggest story that I knew because I was only four when he won a streetcar for being the original Kilroy. And all kinds of reporters and photographers and all were there. And there was no television at that time. It was a big newspaper event, really.

Amory: You heard that right. The radio contest run by the American Transit Association gave James Kilroy a FULL SIZED STREET CAR for his prize when they recognized him as the original Kilroy.

Ben: Alas, the original isn’t around any more. But he did leave nine little Kilroys behind, including Kathy. Some of his coworkers from the shipyard remember him too.

Jay White: for some reason or other, he started writing wherever he had done any work he'd write. Kilroy was here and the word spread around all over the yard. And Kilroy not I don't mean disparaging way, but he was a character. 

John Henrix: And I have seen his yellow paint. He painted up. Kilroy was here. 

Amory: According to newspaper coverage at the time, 14 thousand workers from the Quincy shipyard alone got into the ships they built and went to war — which helps explain the spread of the meme, too. It wasn’t just randos who saw it in the boats. There might have been people who knew the origin and brought it with them overseas.

Ben: Where it again did something a meme does: It supposedly picked up the image of the British version, Chad. So the doodle is really a composite — an image with new text, representing the literal combination of allies fighting against the Nazis.

Ben: And this is where Kilroy started taking on more meaning. It was still this absurd little message, scrawled all over the place randomly. But it also told you something about where you were, and who had been there before you. And Leo says, that’s important.

Leo: So once they got overseas in Europe, especially the army, if they took a town in Germany, they’d write on the buildings - Kilroy was here. So the next Platoon knew that the Americans were already through that town and they felt a little safer because Kilroy was already here. 

Amory: Phil Edwards from Vox mentioned this, too.

Phil: We have the luxury of being able to just look at the goofy side of it, but there's definitely. You know, I can imagine if you had been hiking in a country you didn't know for two and a half days. Thinking that you're really far from home and you don't know the language, and then suddenly you peer underneath a girder of a bridge and you see Kilroy was here. I can imagine that would be comforting and really unsettling at the same time. You know, Kilroy almost becomes this like omniscient type figure if he's in enough places.

Ben: Leo, can I ask you how old you are?

Leo: I'll be eighty-seven in August.

Ben: So you're a veteran.

Leo: Korea.

Ben: So what does Kilroy was here mean to you?

Leo: Well, I think it turned into a good image because the GIs took advantage of Kilroy was here. I just like to preserve some of our American history. I think we're too much of a throwaway society today. I was brought up in a different era. That's about all I can tell you, really. 

Ben: In Leo's day, preserving something meant erecting a museum, a monument. In the digital age, we preserve ideas and images in a different way. Often in meme format. And however we preserve ideas, preserving the mundane helps us understand the realities of regular people.

Gianluca: if you think about, you know, ancient civilizations. Most of what we have left from them are these visual artworks, right? It might become the same if, you know, many years from now, everything that was left from from us was, you know, Twitter.

B: Meme chorus member Gianluca Stringhini there. And oh please lord don’t let Twitter be the thing people look back on to understand this time. Unless... it is a look at what us plebs have to say about what’s going on.

Amory: Our ephemera expert Phil, whose title alone proves he has been brought up in a different era than Leo the shipfitter, has something similar to say about Kilroy. For him, Kilroy is this super unique meme from before the internet that has been preserved almost as a portal to the past.

Phil: Personally, it's hard for me to grapple with the solemnity of memorials because I don't necessarily, I don't know, some of the things that are being memorialized or so abstract for me, like the number of people who died, it's ultimately a number for me and it's hard for me to understand. And even things like like like courage and bravery, they're just not concrete enough for me to have a big emotional response to for for an historical event like this. But the second that I see somebody with a sense of humor, somebody's sense of humor, I suddenly understand their humanity on this whole new level. And they go from being just a statistic to being a breathing person who wanted to make a joke. 

Ben: Kilroy is still being meme’d. It’s been on TV shows. There are internet communities — a subreddit even — dedicated to finding instances of it in the wild. And people are still adding new versions of it. It’s its own meme-orial in a way...too. On the battlefield it might have represented soldiers who had just died in the next push forward. And it is a more regular person memorial — not necessarily draped with the trappings of bellicose national identity — something stranger, and Phil would argue more real.

Phil: It helps me focus on the fact that these were real people. And like we know that real people today have flaws. They have good things and bad things about them. And they can be funny and weird and unusual and disappointing and heroic. And so to me, the fact that you get to see this meme that people were doing, it makes some people again, which is what I like about it. 

Amory: That right there is a good argument for why we started our new series with 'Kilroy was here," and why we’re going to keep going deep on the memes.

Ben: Oh the humemery.

Amory: By the time we're done, you're gonna dream in meme. JK.

Ben: Or maybe not... because memes are changing the way we communicate — in ALL kinds of ways — and maybe even how we think.

[MUSIC]

Next week, the story of what may be the most famously ridiculed meme subject of all time.

Guest: Oh, what the hell was it? Steals your keys, spends twenty minutes helping you look for him.

Amory: And his mom.

Mom: When I found out that he was a meme, I was new to everything, I had no knowledge of the Internet, no knowledge of Reddit, and I literally thought that I could rescue his reputation. 

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