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That really big cow is a steer named Knickers. Long may he meme.

The 1.4-ton Holstein-Friesian dairy steer was deemed too big to kill.

AuBC/Channel 7 Today Tonight
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.

Knickers the cow has temporarily delighted what seems like everyone on the entire internet by ... being a really big cow.

Okay, more accurately, the 2,800-pound Holstein-Friesian is a steer who makes his home at farmer Geoff Pearson’s cattle ranch in Western Australia. Australian media put Knickers on blast after the animal was saved from the slaughterhouse because he was deemed too big to be sold at auction. Potential buyers said he was too large to fit into their farm equipment; at 6 feet, 4 inches tall, he may well tie the current world record for biggest cow (but really steer) ever.

But there’s no need to be pedantic about whether the big cow is really a big cow. If you saw the viral photo of Knickers and said, “Wow, that’s an extremely big cow,” you’re basically right.

And I’m not going to spoil the fun by reminding you that Knickers is a steer. After all, steer jokes aren’t nearly as satisfying. “Holy steer?” No, it’s got to be “Holy cow,” or what is even the point of having a giant viral bovine in our midst?

Here at Vox, we are strong advocates for trying to trace internet memes back to the wellspring of cultural interests and anxieties from which they usually spring. And there have already been a couple of attempts to connect Knickers to broader concerns, such as they are:

But regardless of whether Knickers is an apt vehicle for social commentary or just a funny animal who’s fun to joke about on the internet, one thing seems clear from a single glance at the animal: His down-home country charm and inviting persona — even though he’s a steer and thus unavailable for milking — are part of the shift in internet culture away from irony and toward wholesome memes.

Astute internet commentators have characterized that shift as being encapsulated in a trend in our collective internet proclivities away from cats (cynical, wry, highly conditional love) and toward dogs (wholesome, pure, highly unconditional love). In this context, perhaps we can view Knickers’s instant virality as a symbol of our longing to embrace a symbol of simpler, less complicated times. What’s a more immediate image to call to mind “cozy pastoral lives with small communities and no internet” than a cow?

Then again, it’s not as if Knickers is the first cow to get the meme treatment. After all, it’s only been a year since many people spent several hours glued to the saga of a runaway cow in Brooklyn. And it’s not like other, more cynical animals haven’t been clamoring for their moment in the online spotlight: After all, raccoons have been on the rise lately — quite literally — and it’d be difficult to find a more cynical edgelord in all of the animal kingdom.

At any rate, if you’re reading this and thinking that trying to link Knickers to the cultural zeitgeist is a bit of a stretch, then how, now, let’s avow: Sometimes, a cow is just a cow. (Or a steer.)