"Epic" Internet meme brings levity to Libya crisis

byNicole Martinelli
Apr 4, 2011 in Digital Journalism

Although civil war is no laughing matter, an Internet meme is provoking chuckles while keeping Libya's ongoing crisis in the spotlight. IJNet tracked down the student behind "Epic Libyan," a Tumblr feed and Twitter hashtag, to ask why he does it.

A number of people are using social media to bring the situation in Libya to the forefront – like LibyaFeb17.com and For Libya -- but Epic Libyan does it with humor. As reports from the so-called Arab Spring flood news outlets, Epic Libyan caught the attention of Al Jazeera's social media program The Stream, which ran a story on the meme.

Hamza Malek is a 24-year-old medical student in Detroit. He describes himself as the son of a Libyan father and an American mother who generally “just likes to play sports, mess around with software [and] hang out with friends.”

On March 5, he started tagging photos with “#EpicLibyan.” The idea grew in to a Tumblr feed, launched March 28, which shows the lighter side of the conflict with photos bearing humorous captions, like the one above of a young soldier draped in an “ammo necklace,” or a woman who might be armed with explosive slippers. In just days, the Twitter account linked to it, and IbnOmar 2005, gained 2,000 followers.

IJNet talked to Malek via Twitter.

IJNet: What got you started?

Hamza Malek: It started when I first saw the freedom fighter from Zawiya. It's really hard to describe what I felt when I first saw him. He just looked "epic."

His image is the very first one on the Tumblr I made. Just looking at him, he seemed larger than life. So I decided to add a caption to his image, something similar to the "Chuck Norris Facts" you hear about, to try to make him an Internet meme.

After a while, people suggested I compile all of the images I had put up with the captions and put it on one site, so I did.

IJNet: What were you hoping to accomplish?

HM: People really needed to see the actual enthusiasm the freedom fighters had for this revolution. This man probably never picked up a gun in his life, but when he had a chance to fight for freedom, you can tell by the pictures that he was enjoying every minute of it.

So as the revolution went on, there were more pictures popping up, that showed the candidness of the freedom fighters, so I would tweet their image and add the hashtag #EpicLibyan___, and would add my own explanation, trying to bring attention to their humanity and bravery. And that's how it all started.

IJNet: What's in the name?

HM: Well, the epic side of things I feel is obvious. Many of the pictures I get from reddit.com, where people post the pictures and comment. I just feel like the Libyan freedom fighters are very unique. Libya wasn't a war-torn nation before any of this happened.

IJNet: Your dad is Libyan, what does he say about it? Do you have family there?

HM: He likes it and he gives me suggestions sometimes. My family and friends are there. I lived in Libya for a few years so I worry a lot about them.

IJNet: What role do you think social media is playing in all this?

HM: I feel social media and the Internet are where people get most of their news nowadays. Before it was TV, then radio, then newspapers, then word of mouth, etc. But what makes social media so great is how everyone contributes and how easily it is to have a message spread all over the world. No one controls social media, it is controlled by the people. So when a large enough group of people talk about an event, then the rest of the world will hear it.

IJNet: How do you feel humor helps when talking about something like this?

HM: I think it makes it more relatable, more human. People prefer seeing things that make them smile, make them inspired.

After a while, when people look at pictures of war and it's depressing and sad, it makes you depressed and sad -- but this revolution is a happy thing, a good thing.

It's something everyone should be celebrating. These "epic Libyans" I feel are inspiring.