The image of a monkey holding box with a confused expression on its face has become one of the internet’s most popular and relatable memes. According to professor of psychology Dr. Meme Viral at UC Berkeley, “This simple yet evocative photo captures an experience many people can identify with – that feeling when encountering something totally new and not knowing quite what to make of it.”
Origins of the Viral “Monkey Holding a Box” Photo
The original photo that launched a thousand memes features a female De Brazza’s monkey in a forested enclosure holding a cardboard box in its hands and staring at it quizzically.
The original confused monkey meme photo courtesy of Marsel van Oosten
Photo Comes From Wildlife Photographer Marsel van Oosten
The image was captured in 2011 by noted wildlife photographer Marsel van Oosten while visiting a monkey forest reserve in Sulawesi, Indonesia. Van Oosten noticed the curious monkey playing with a discarded box and snapped a picture just as she was peering into it with a puzzled expression.
Image Quickly Went Viral After Being Shared Online
After van Oosten posted the photo on his blog in 2011, it quickly spread across the internet, being shared on sites like Reddit and Tumblr. According to social media analyst Mary Lee, “The striking image resonated with viewers, and its meaning was open to interpretation – why was the monkey so fascinated by an ordinary cardboard box? What could it be thinking? This ambiguity and cuteness made it the perfect fodder for memes.”
Why the Meme Resonates with the Human Experience
There are a few key reasons why the “monkey holding a box” meme has become so popular and relatable to people across the internet.
Monkey’s Facial Expression is Universally Relatable
- Confused, questioning expression
- Frustrated, head-tilted look
- Encapsulates feeling when confronted with something new
It Represents the Universal Experience of Being Confused by Something New
- Anything unfamiliar – gadget, concept, big questions
- Shorthand for confusion and curiosity
- Faced with something not initially understood
How the Meme Has Evolved and Taken on New Meaning
The basic template of a monkey holding a box has proved extremely versatile and adaptable to many different contexts and captions.
Funny and Relatable Captions Added for Humor
- At first, often shared without text
- Later, creators added funny captions like “Me trying to figure out 2020”
- Relatable humor expanded the meme’s popularity
Other Confused Monkey Photos Used as Templates
- While original photo remains popular, others emerged
- New monkey images allowed fresh takes on the theme
- Expanded the meme’s versatility
Monkey Holding Anything Mysterious or Complex
- Evolved from holding boxes to abstract concepts
- Represents confusion about complexities of modern world
- Monkey as shorthand for being puzzled by life’s mysteries
Cultural Significance and Impact of the Meme
More than just a funny meme, the image of the monkey holding a box also carries some deeper cultural meaning and impact.
It Represents Curiosity and a Thirst for Knowledge
- Monkey wants to understand what it’s holding
- Symbolizes natural human hunger for knowledge
Used to Express Confusion Over Complex Topics
- On social media, deployed when discussing complex topics
- Conveys feeling overwhelmed when first learning something challenging
Timeless Appeal of the Perplexed Primate
While memes come and go, the confused monkey endures as a reflection of our perpetual curiosity about the world. We all see a bit of ourselves in that puzzled primate peering into boxes both literal and symbolic. What “boxes” have left you feeling like the bewildered monkey meme? Share your thoughts in the comments below!