clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The White House did not create a fake gorilla TV channel for Trump

But the mere idea of one has consumed the internet and spawned one of the first great memes of 2018.

gorilla (Wikipedia)
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

The White House has not created a fake TV network devoted to primates to keep President Donald Trump entertained — but if you’ve been anywhere near Twitter lately, you may have been led to believe it did exactly that.

Such is the power of the Gorilla Channel, which has joined jokes about eating Tide Pods on the list of the biggest early memes of 2018.

Thanks to the same man who brought the world Milkshake Duck, a certain swath of the politically engaged internet spent much of Friday enmeshed in what is by far the most hilarious and unexpected development in the controversy around Michael Wolff’s salacious exposé of the Trump White House.

It involves fighting apes, the president of United States, and a very silly joke that lots of people apparently think is alarmingly close to reality.

What is the Gorilla Channel and what does it have to do with politics?

For the past week, many have been hypnotized by the scandal and intrigue surrounding Fire and Fury, Wolff’s just-released new book about the Trump administration. Social media has been teeming for days with chatter about several shocking excerpts from the book — from the claim that Trump never actually wanted to win the election to allegations that his former chief strategist Steve Bannon believed that Donald Trump Jr.’s 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer was “treasonous.”

The book has sparked a maelstrom of response, from criticism of its gossipy tone to praise for its revealing glimpse inside a tumultuous administration. It’s even drawn ire (as well as a possible lawsuit) from the commander-in-chief himself.

Enter Ben Ward, who is better known online as Twitter user @pixelatedboat, a.k.a the creator of the popular Milkshake Duck meme that was everywhere toward the end of 2017. That meme took well over a year and a half to percolate and enter the mainstream. But on January 4, Ward created a new meme that went massively viral in under a day.

In the middle of the uproar over Fire and Fury, Ward tweeted a fake excerpt from the book, one in which Trump kicked off his tenure as president by complaining about the TV programming options available to him in the White House.

“On his first night in the White House, President Trump complained that the TV in his bedroom was broken, because it didn’t have ‘the gorilla channel’,” Ward’s fake excerpt declared. “Trump seemed to be under the impression that a TV channel existed that screened nothing but gorilla content, 24 hours a day.”

Ward’s fake excerpt immediately took off, garnering nearly 20,000 retweets in under 24 hours, and setting off a wave of “gorilla channel” jokes across social media.

It also caused an incredible amount of confusion, at least initially, because so many people — including major Twitter influencers and members of the media — actually thought it was a real excerpt from Wolff’s book. The confusion was so widespread that Snopes was forced to debunk the excerpt as a “false” internet hoax, and Ward was inspired to temporarily change his Twitter profile name to “the gorilla channel thing is a joke.”

For his part, Ward instantly realized that he’d created a monster:

Ward’s remorse notwithstanding, once it became clear that the Gorilla Channel story was a parody, it quickly became a meme as people on social media — not to mention several corporate entities eager to get in on the fun — took the joke and ran with it.

Vice liked the idea so much that it actually launched its own Gorilla Channel — so you can watch yourself and see if it’s worth the hype.

Why did a single joke about Trump watching gorillas fight go so viral?

There are several converging reasons for the success of this insta-meme.

For starters, the great Harambe meme of 2016 has already shown us that gorillas + the internet = meme magic.

For another, Ward, having already achieved Twitter fame thanks to the popularity of the Milkshake Duck meme and his consistently humorous feed, had, with 170,000 followers, the reach to spread the joke far and wide instantly — much to the chagrin of those who were quick to point out that creating meme lightning in a bottle twice is kind of unholy:

Then there’s the context of the joke itself. President Trump is not only notorious for his “post-literate” obsession with cable TV, but Ward’s characterization of the president as insisting on watching only gorilla fight scenes has a real-life antecedent: a 1997 New Yorker report in which Trump made one of his sons fast-forward through an action movie solely so he could watch only the fight scenes.

Finally, there’s the fast-and-loose caliber of many of the anecdotes in Fire and Fury, which Wolff apparently sourced through a blend of both on- and off-the-record, semi-formal White House access. So much of what is actually in the book is wild, yet seemingly plausible, yet impossible to verify, that it’s no wonder that the book has reportedly been flying off shelves.

In essence, the concept of the “Gorilla Channel” is one of those quintessentially meta-memes tied to current discourse around politics and reality creation, one that playfully calls out uneasy aspects of society — in this case, the relationship between the president, reality TV, and the dumbing down of American culture.

And actually, that might give the meme a lot more gravitas than its creator surely ever intended — which would make it a ... Milkshake Duck?

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.