Adam Harris got married, and then he and his wife turned into a meme. Their wedding photos circulated on Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram, annotated in ways that play on racist and sexist stereotypes of African-American men — and arguably all men. The images were ripped from their intimately magical context and twisted into a ubiquitously bitter one.
Here's how it happened, and how Adam fought back and won, all with the help of strangers.
The location of his wedding on September 13, 2014 — the Terrace Club in Dripping Springs, Texas — appears to be the sort of place where dreams are made and hearts are healed, not broken:
Harris's Tumblr is like most others on the social network: a collection of mixed media, personal and aspirational. The original post of his wedding photos has nearly 10,000 notes. But it didn't start out that way:
I shared a few photos from the wedding on my Tumblr page and it was normal at first. Just my friends who followed me reblogged the post. About 15-20 notes. ... The initial sharing was mine. As one would expect, I was excited about my wedding photos and wanted to share them with family and friends. The meme-ification was completely random.
It's a collection of photos that are stunningly poignant, sincere, and utterly hopeful:
The heartless "deterioration of the meaning" of a real relationship
Harris's sister-in-law first found the photos on a third-party Instagram account:
I was first made aware that the photos were shared on a major Facebook page by my sister-in-law, the page name I can not recall but the first time I saw it in meme form was on @DerrickJaxn's Instagram page. I learned of this in late November/early December. He watermarked the photoset with the quote, "When you finally woke up and realized having a lot of women can't compare to just one that's loyal." The sentiment was "sweet" I suppose but it was the beginning of a deterioration of the meaning of the photos.
The original version of the meme, which is mild compared with the second one, has 11,700 likes on Instagram:
And then the meme got worse. Much worse.
He's thinking about all the side hoes he has to give up pic.twitter.com/7e1Kyiz8VM— Meninist (@MeninistTweet) May 22, 2015
Even before Harris himself responded, the memefication of his wedding day as one of dishonesty triggered immediate criticism that it played on deeply rooted stereotypes against African-American men, if not all men and all African Americans:
@MeninistTweet the fact that u think this is funny makes me believe you are never gonna settle down / find someone who loves u lmao— amanda☯ (@arianasheartout) May 23, 2015
@MeninistTweet nice job being a fucking racist !— zayn defence squad (@zaynftheweeknd) May 23, 2015
Some Twitter users even suggested the flower on Adam's lapel was a banana peel, leading other users to call out the explicit racism in such a suggestion, among other issues.
The damage of the meme was done. Adam wasn't. While there are strangers on the internet who are quite willing to appropriate your personal image or life, there are others who aren't.
The right to be forgotten only works if you can forget
When we post photos online, we passively accept the likelihood of photos ending up in terrible places. Like the Harris family's photos, what we post online first belong to us first and to the entire internet last, with little recourse available. European regulators addressed the "right to be forgotten" last year, but Americans have no similar option, either in Google or on social networks.
The ever-too-costly road? Harris could have hired a lawyer in an expensive process guided mostly by intellectual property laws and the fear individual users can instill into social networks through shame tactics. But that costs time, money, and emotional stress for something that's already done its damage.
Harris's wife Tisa's image is as much appropriated here as Adam's, and in response to an inquiry about her thoughts, Harris added that "yes, I've discussed it with Tisa."
Without hiring a lawyer or shaming social networks for allowing the meme to exist on their sites, what were their options?
This is how Adam fought back against the internet, and won
Adam had one small option left to correct the internet's digital cache of his own history: share his reaction on the internet again, for free, and hope as many strangers saw the response as saw the meme in the first place. It worked. In just a couple of days, his correction garnered more than 300,000 favorites, comments, notes, and shares just between two social media posts, never mind the countless others out there:
Or I was thinking about my wife, but you know, do you. https://t.co/MS5TBkT0hy— Adam Harris (@AdamHSays) May 23, 2015
Harris responded more comprehensively to the meme on his Tumblr shortly after his tweet:
First of all, I would like to thank everyone for your kind messages and support over the last few days. It has been amazing to see the love that you all have shown and both Tisa and I are grateful for it.
Now, to clear a few things up
1) The MeninistTweet account is vile. Parody is one thing, rape "jokes" are another and they are never okay in any capacity. I responded for two reasons: to correct an account that has consistently degraded women and because I will not allow them to shift the focus of our special moment to something else. My wife is witty, attractive, my best friend, and can tell a hell of a joke. A real joke, not what that account calls a joke. Knowing that I was marrying her and that we would officially be a union within a few minutes was enough to make me cry tears of joy. She’s awesome.
2) That was not a banana peel, it was a mini calla lily. Geeze.
3) I did not respond to that tweet in that way just because "my wife was following me on twitter," or "because my wife made me." No. It is possible for a man, on his own volition, to stand up for himself and his family. To simply reply to something that is wrong and fix it. Even with something small such as your order being wrong at the drive-thru – would you just take the wrong order and go? No, you would explain the mistake, get your food, and go. Likewise, if someone is defaming mine or my wife’s character, I’m going to correct them and keep on. That should apply to all facets of life. Stand up for yourself.
4) Men, we have to do better. In general. We just have to do better. Every little bit counts.
Adam says he has yet to receive a reply, DM, email, or any other response from the parties who misused his photos. What's it like to have your image used as a mechanism to champion racist or sexist memes? It's as awful as it sounds, but Adam's actions show us that we can actually correct the social record, even if just one tweet at a time, with a little support from strangers.
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