Is it too late to write about Dat Boi–that frog which unicycled into our newsfeeds and hearts? I hope not, there’s still much unsaid about him. Among memes of History channel’s guerilla marketing and a dead gorilla, Dat Boi is unique. He is not of the usual places nor confined to their boundaries: Dat Boi is a trickster god.
Regarding trickster gods in myth, the venerable Joseph Campbell wrote inThe Hero with a Thousand Faces:
Mythology, in this respect, makes the tragic attitude seem somewhat hysterical, and the merely moral judgement shortsighted… Thus the tales are both pitiless and terrorless—suffused with the joy of a transcendent anonymity regarding itself in all of the self-centered, battling egos that are born and die in time.
Consider the West African “clown-devil” (trickster god) Edshu, who wore a hat with four colors on it and walked between two farmers. (More on the hat later.) One farmer said the hat was red and the other said it was white. Their disagreement eventually got so out of hand that they tried to kill each other and were brought before a judge. It was only then that Edshu revealed himself and his ruse.
Whereas Rick Harrison wants to buy your item (and its story) for cheap, caveman spongebob wants to run away, and devotees of Harambe want to get the ape on Mount Rushmore–as well as harass grieving zoo staff–Dat Boi has no material aims. He exists merely to spread confusion–pitilessly, terrorlessly, and suffused with joy.
Supplanting gods is a favorite pastime of tricksters
And the arenas for his joyful confusion are manifold. For, like the Greek trickster god Dionysos, he’s always moving. Whereas the foot or leg was a key symbol of the Dionysiac body, and the Greek god is often depicted in art and literature arriving, so too Dat Boi inseparable from his unicycle, which he rides to surprising places. This mobility, just as Dionysos’, has paid dividends in renown.
Not only has Dat Boi appeared in history, films, presidential elections, gentlemen’s magazines, but he also wheeled his way into (or from?) reality.
This may have something to do with the image’s history as a stock photo–or! bear with me–it could perfectly represent the trickster god’s existence at thresholds.
The four colors of Edshu’s hat represented the four directions of the world, and his wearing it represented his position at the navel of the Earth. More metaphysically, and depending on how structuralist you want to get, tricksters from Sisyphus to crows, coyotes, and foxes, all exist in the space between the realms of the gods and man/ life and death. It’s little surprise then that the trickster Dat Boi should just as easily appear in a (very real all about reality) physics text book as (born and bred, exists necessarily and solely on the internet) vaporwave tracks.
It speaks volumes of our society that when confronted with a genuine archetype we quickly abandoned him in favor of a primate and a poor-man’s capitalist. But we should be careful; just read Euripides to find out what a pissed off trickster god is capable of. Pretty soon we might all be saying “o shit.”
Estlin Agnew is a meme page admin and writer. His work has appeared in Mannequin Haus and Thrice Fiction.