Who said animes from the early 1990s couldn’t make a lasting impact on the world? This is the “Is this a pigeon?” meme.
You’ve definitely seen it in some form or another over the last month. Typically, the butterfly represents something for the human in the image that it clearly is not, and it’s been used as a form of social commentary. However, even though this meme has taken over Twitter as of late, it has a longer history than you might be aware of.
The still originally comes from an episode of the 1991 Japanese anime TV series ‘The Brave Fighter of Sun Fighbird’.
The character Yutaro Katori is an android, so it makes sense that he might have difficulty identifying butterflies and flowers. According to KnowYourMeme, a site which is invaluable for this sort of thing, the image was first posted to Tumblr in 2011 with the caption: “anime subtitles are the new zen (yeah, sure).”
It spent the next few years bouncing around various listicles, and it was incorrectly identified as a translation fail in the 2013 Buzzfeed list, “27 Subtitles That Have Gone Awesomely Wrong”.
For what it’s worth, the “Is this a pigeon?” hashtag on Tumblr has seen some activity over the last few years, but nothing like what happened on Twitter starting in April. As Vice points out in its analysis, many people using the meme on Twitter are using it to comment on issues surrounding depression and mental health.
For example, user Brandy Jensen identifies it as “a negative emotion” as “how I’ll feel forever”.
Vice even talked to a psychologist who suggested that the meme might be particularly suited to expressing depressive feelings. She said: “Memes [are] kind of like a way to get around that” [‘that’ being expressing one’s feelings in words to another person]. “I think it makes people understand emotion and mental health in a more accessible way.”
So, maybe inadvertently, the “Is this a pigeon?” is opening a window to the psyche in a way that other memes like “Stock Photo of Guy Looking at Girl” just can’t.
Do you think the “Is this a pigeon?” meme is a window into the human mind? Let us know in the comments and make sure to follow us on Twitter at @WhatsTrending.