One year ago today, two llamas, tired of being cogs in the petting-zoo machine, saw an opportunity to break free of their mundane lives as retirement-community emotional-support animals and ran toward hope of a new life. Toward freedom.
It was just before 1 p.m. in Sun City, Arizona, when the best livestreamed chase ever began to reach bored office workers’ screens across the country, perfectly timed for the West Coast lunch lull and prime mid-afternoon slump time on the East Coast.
“LLAMA WATCH:” the local news station’s tweet began in inviting all-caps. Say no more. For the next half-hour, we joined together IRL and URL to cheer on these freedom-loving rebels — Thellama & Llouise — getting a sweet taste of life outside their petting-zoo handlers’ shackles.
And what a glorious 30 minutes it was! We high-fived when the llamas, seemingly cornered by police, ready to meet their caged end, bolted through an opening and once again evaded the oppressive animal-control state. We applauded their commitment to the team, rooting for them to stay together when one llama was lingering a little too far behind the other — “strength in numbers,” and all. We lamented when they were inevitably separated, as we all knew the end was nigh. They must’ve been so scared without each other, those poor llamas.
Usually, when a police chase grabs the nation’s attention, it’s for much more sinister reasons. With the Great Llama Chase of 2015, the stakes were low. The cops didn’t appear to use weapons other than lassos. Since this unfolded in a retirement community, the roads were relatively empty and low-speed. Llamas running don’t really require cops in cars to floor it, anyway.
The llamas, at times, even roamed at a leisurely pace, trotting around, taking in the lush Arizonan scenery of dry grass, sidewalks, and dirt. (Hey, it’s got to be better than a petting-zoo pen full of your own poop.)
This sense of endless, expanding leisure couldn’t last forever. Just a few hours later, in the early evening on the East Coast, BuzzFeed hit publish on the defining work of the viral-web era, “What Colors Are This Dress?” The internet, pop culture, the words the dress, and our lives were never the same.
We’d gone from cheering together to arguing with each other, disparaging the eyesight and intelligence of friends and family. Instead of laughing and smiling at the silly llama chase, we were getting headaches from color combos (I think I saw periwinkle and pink at some point), squinting to see the colors shift before our strained eyes.
Writers and editors and social-media managers scrambled to find their angle on the dress. Angry tweets were fired off. Bad memes were plastered all over social media. Relationships were tested. To this day, friends will not trust my judgment on colors — because I saw the dress in the right colors.
The simple truth is this: A good meme is hard to find. Those llamas had broken their chains and risked their lives to give us something to stare at. And instead of giving them their rightful place as that year’s great viral story, we gave in to the — honestly, super-ugly — striped dress.
Memes are rarely as positive and happy as the llama chase. They’re usually jokes being made at an unsuspecting person’s expense, to insult whoever is unlucky enough to be on the receiving end, or are just plain mean and dumb. (See: What are thooooose?, celebrities crying, “Why You Lying,” Be Like Bill, any meme that used a regular person’s face without their knowledge or permission.) The llamas were none of those things.
There’s still hope for us. Damn, Daniel, the teen who’s back at it again with the white Vans, is our best new hope at a Good Meme. Daniel is clearly in on the joke, laughing, not being mocked, repeatedly complimented on his style. (It also gets bonus points for only having two lines to remember in a ridiculous voice, so embarrassing misquoting is nearly impossible.) Once again, the people of the internet can unite over a meme based purely in positivity, even though jerks are already trying to ruin it.
Protect Damn, Daniel at all costs! It has taken us a year to gain back the Good Meme ground the llamas risked their lives to run freely over, and we must learn from our mistakes.
So today, on this humble February 26, the only meme anniversary I’ll be acknowledging is the best one: the llama chase. Instead of getting a headache by staring at too many stale dress memes re-aggregated from a year ago, watch this 18-minute clip of the llama chase and remember what joy and freedom look like. The llamas, an extensive BuzzFeed oral history published today tells us, are back home, though things aren’t quite the same: “The white llama, she’s never really come back around,” owner Karen Freund says. “She learned what she can get away with. She was always a bit difficult to deal with. Bit of an attitude.” That sounds about right.