A Meme Before Its Time


Andrea Denhoed explores what the delayed popularity of this five-year-old photo illuminates about Internet culture:

Like the stingray, "photobomb" has been around for a while, but has recently come into its own. Google Trend’s graph of the search volume for the term shows nary a bump before 2008, then a jump to a bumpy plateau from 2009 to 2011, and then a sudden spike over the last few weeks, thanks to the stingray…. Five years ago, when [Sarah] Bourland and her friends sent the stingray photo to ["The Ellen DeGeneres Show"], it might have been a proto-photobomb, from the early days of the photobomb avant-garde, but it wouldn’t have had the resonance that it has today.

In the ensuing years, there have been multipleblogsdedicated to the photobomb, celebrityphotobombsphotobombing animal forerunners, all of which have contributed to the growing familiarity of the photobomb being called by its name. When it was taken, the photo would have been a funny and unusual picture of three terrified girls and a doofy-looking stingray. Today, the photo can be labelled a photobomb, which implies a narrative of surreptitious sabotage, connects the stingray to a whole tribe of obnoxious pranksters, and makes the ray look like his smile might contain a hint of frat-boyish dissolution. We’ve come so far.