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Oogachaka, oogachaka … readers of a certain age will remember the night in late January 1998 when the titular character on TV’s Ally McBeal danced with a computer-generated baby. The iconic scene—meant to convey Ally’s concerns about her biological clock—not only propelled the show into a hit but also birthed the digital meme.

Alternately creepy and cute, the Dancing Baby was already a cult hit prior to Ally McBeal. A teenage Rob Sheridan (now a graphic designer famous for his work with Nine Inch Nails) had found the curiously mesmerizing .avi file online and begun distributing it on “The Unofficial Dancing Baby Homepage.” (Check out the quintessentially 1990s web design, tiled background and all.) Ally’s dance took the internet oddity mainstream. Soon, you could buy T-shirts featuring the Oogachaka Baby at the mall.

Throughout the ages, memes have served as visual shorthand for an attitude or perspective. The “Kilroy Was Here” doodle (featuring a bald head peeking over a wall) came to symbolize the fighting spirit of the American soldier during the Second World War, so much so that it was incorporated in the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. Today, memes serve as “editorial cartoons for the internet age,” as meme creator Saint Hoax explains in this January 2022 New York Times article.

So, the next time you share a distracted boyfriend, Kermit sipping tea, or a woman yelling at cat, recognize that you’re simply giving into an evolutionary urge to communicate via meme.

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Photo: GaudiLab / Shutterstock

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Kate Johanns

Posted by Kate Johanns

Kate Johanns is a communications professional and freelance writer with more than 13 years of experience in publishing and marketing.

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