The Hot New Meme Is Tarrare

A gluttonous man who is not Tarrare but who I think reflects him accurately. Illustration: George Cruikshank

Earlier this month, Verizon managed to offload Tumblr, taking what was essentially a billion-dollar write-down on a blogging platform. That might make you think that Tumblr is effectively dead. But Tumblr still has signs of life, even if its perceived economic value has cratered. Where other platforms have users that jump from trend to trend all in the interest of maximizing engagement, Tumblr can often skew more esoteric and impenetrable. While Twitter obsesses over the new Star Wars trailer or whatever, Tumblr has become enamored with a certain French mystery man.

Here’s the new meme.

Perhaps you are wondering what this post is about. “cant stop thinking about this post,” one user replied. “i dont think any ‘that face you make when’ type posts has prompted over 20 minutes of research in me before.” I’ll save you some time: The post is referencing a French man known as Tarrare, who lived around the end of the 18th century.

I highly recommend you Google Tarrare and let your instincts guide you. The Wikipedia entry is very good. It’s tough to sum up Tarrare in a handful of sentences, but: He was this French guy who had a medical condition known as polyphagia that caused him to always be hungry. He was constantly hungry and could and would eat literally anything and apparently he smelled like crap. His is the most egregious case of polyphagia in recorded history. According to legend, he was caught eating corpses and at one point was suspected of eating a 14-month-old.

Anyway, the Squidward Tarrare post appears to have set off a small wave of renewed Tarrare learning. Everyone loves learning weird stuff about history! Tarrare’s story is wild. He was a human garbage disposal who smelled terrible and confounded doctors and, I can’t stress this enough, was suspected of eating a baby and when that happened the hospital staff was just like, “Please leave. We think you ate a baby. Just go.” The past was different, is what I’m saying. I feel richer for possessing this knowledge, and I learned about it from a bunch of memes.

In terms of meme fodder, Tarrare’s got it all. There’s a medical mystery that can never be solved, a potential murder that can never be solved, body horror, the risqué subject of masticated children, historical value so you feel like you’re learning through shitposting. All of these combine for an end-of-summer online treat. Eventually someone will unlock an optimized Tarrare shitpost that will balance all of these elements and, one assumes, create a wormhole that sucks me into another dimension much like Tarrare (allegedly) scarfed down the baby.

Anyway, that’s what’s up with all the Tarrare memes lately.

Once You Hear the Story of Tarrare, He’ll Haunt You Forever