Is this a pigeon? A 2011 meme reincarnated in 2018

This is the meme. A man gestures towards a butterfly and asks, is this a pigeon?Image copyrightSunrise
Image caption Is this a meme?

2018 is becoming the year old memes come back to life.

When a 2011 meme called American Chopper re-emerged on Twitter in 2018, the BBC explored how a meme about two men arguing had lived a second life long after its first.

Now the feat has been repeated, as a 2011 image macro (a still picture with text imposed) asking if a butterfly is a pigeon has surged in popularity seven years later.

Is this a pigeon? A 2011 meme reincarnated in 2018
Is this a pigeon? A 2011 meme reincarnated in 2018

In the widely shared image, a character from a Japanese anime gestures towards a butterfly and asks: “Is this a pigeon?”

Skip Twitter post by @hermit_hwarang

I found the HD version

— 박주현 (@hermit_hwarang) May 10, 2018

End of Twitter post by @hermit_hwarang

Is this an old meme?

The image can be traced back to Indizi dell’avvenuta catastrofe on Tumblr, who posted it as an example of amusing subtitles in anime.

It was used in 2011 as a reaction image – posted to show confusion or suggest another person’s opinion did not make sense.

Seven years after its original appearance online, the pigeon meme reappeared with text added to ask if “literally anything” was a “big mood” on Twitter.

A “big mood” is a Twitter term used to express approval or the fact a user agrees with or can identify with an item of tweeted content.

The image has since been liked over 100,000 times.

Skip Twitter post by @chvschpr

has this been done yet?

— chava aybby (@chvschpr) March 31, 2018

End of Twitter post by @chvschpr

Is this a new meme?

Hundreds, if not thousands, of variants of the image have subsequently appeared along with new captions.

Perhaps they have appeared because for some people on Twitter, the meme itself has become a “big mood”.

For example, artist and writer Cat Gaffram used the meme to joke about people using Twitter to feel popular. Poet Jennifer Espinoza used the meme to ridicule people who overreact.

Even Netflix used the meme to lampoon some of its own television shows.

So, while the original 2011 meme was about reacting to confusing comments, the 2018 meme is about signposting content users can relate to.

And for some people, nothing is more relatable than Queen.

Skip Twitter post by @strutting

Caught in a landslide, no escape from the pigeon meme

— ghood ghrownup (@strutting) May 7, 2018

End of Twitter post by @strutting

Is this a translation mistake?

To answer that, you have to go back to the meme’s origins.

The still was taken from an episode of a 1991 Japanese-language anime called The Brave Fighter of Sun Fighbird, set in the then-distant future of 2010.

In order for English-speaking fans to enjoy the episode, it needed to be translated. And with no organisation in place to perform this task, translation was provided by fans.

Kara Dennison, a writer and editor who now works professionally for anime distributor Crunchyroll, was one of the people who worked on the fan translation, or as anime fans call it the “fansub”.

Image copyrightKara Dennison
Image caption Kara says many people working in anime professionally started out as “fansubbers”

But was it a mistake? Kara answers with an emphatic “No”.

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“That is 100% what the character is saying,” she says. “He is an alien who is trying to get a hang of what Earth is.

“So he’s just going outside, he sees something flying and assumes it’s a pigeon. He’s trying to catch on as quickly as possible.”

So despite the image often featuring in lists of bad translations in subtitles, it is no mistake. And Kara says, for that reason, she cannot take credit for the meme.

“I don’t know why it suddenly got famous now,” she says. “Technically, the person who created it was the person who wrote the show.

“But even if I had a little hand in that and people are having fun with that, that’s really cool.”

Skip Twitter post by @RubyCosmos

When “is this a pigeon” comes from a fansub you worked on and you’ve just gotta sit back and watch.

— Kara Dennison (@RubyCosmos) May 9, 2018

End of Twitter post by @RubyCosmos

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