The animals we turn into memes are, of course, “just animals.” But they’re also human — anthropomorphized to accentuate that lifeblood of meme culture, relatability. Fiona the hippo is an adorable young pachyderm who cemented her charm with a formidable appetite and sassy expressions. Moths, although kinda gross and scary, won us over with their self-destructive addiction to lamplight. And the blobfish perfectly embodies how we feel on Mondays — or when we open the front-facing camera.
Roger, the “ripped kangaroo,” was different.
I say “was” for a reason: He is now dead. Before the buff marsupial passed away of natural causes at a wildlife reserve in Alice Springs, Australia, where he’d lived since being rescued as a joey, he was a symbol of outsized machismo that few people could hope to match: He stood at an impressive 6-foot-7, weighed 200 pounds, and, as the alpha ’roo in his compound, had a dozen mates. He even viewed Chris Barns, the man who saved him from his dead mother’s pouch on a highway and raised him ever since, as competition — and would attempt to kickbox him. And Roger got his first taste of fame in 2015 thanks to a photo of him crushing a metal bucket with his bare paws.
Regarding Roger’s eye-popping physique, we were at once in awe (Does that kangaroo do CrossFit or something?) and taken by despair (No matter how much I go to the gym, I’ll never be as shredded as that goddamn kangaroo). This, again, was in curious contrast to how we normally interact with animal personae on social media — empathizing with their laziness, gluttony or surly attitude. Instead, Roger presented a muscular ideal unattainable to anyone saddled with a human anatomy, although tantalizingly humanlike in its form. He exemplified “what peak performance looks like.” As airbrushed models are to the average woman, so was he to the aspiring swole guy.
Was it Roger’s fault that our species became obsessed with his bitchin’ bod, and not, say, his cuddlier side? (He apparently loved a stuffed bunny that he only sometimes tried to kickbox.) Certainly not. We, his fans, should assume 100 percent of the blame for reducing him to a brawny pinup, the calendar-worthy hot firefighter of the animal kingdom. “He always brought a smile to my face,” commented Natalie Imbruglia, the Australian singer, upon news of Roger’s death. “Such a proud strong boy.” Well, Natalie, what if he was MORE THAN JUST HIS MUSCLES? Sorry, but you’re a little late, and I’m already torn by this shallow remembrance. Yes, Roger was Instagram-bait at any angle. But the focus on his sculptural presence erases other great things about him — like how he rubbed the red stuff around his neck onto trees to mark his territory. That, I believe, was the real Roger.
More problematic still, we associated Roger’s bulging biceps with masculine aggression. The memes he inspired were largely about challenging him to a brawl, or the ease with which he’d kick your ass, or the way he’d square up when “protecting his girls” — all aspects of the toxic belligerence men are trying to shed in the 21st century. To claim that Roger was without this tough-guy bravado would be to whitewash his legacy, but does that mean we have to celebrate his eagerness to spar with any opponent? From what I’ve seen, he was also capable of commendable restraint, like when he puffed his chest and clucked to warn people away from his harem of wives.
Being a kangaroo, Roger couldn’t have known or understood his global fandom. He did what came naturally — not for the likes, not for money and not for notoriety. If, by some bizarre metaphysics, animals obtain the sentience of humans in the afterlife, I suspect he’s more than a little peeved at being eulogized as a jock. What I’m saying is that Roger had depth, probably, which is hard to convey in a handful of viral images. Let us avoid the narrative that he mostly spent his days preening and flexing. Who’s to say he meant to crush that metal bin like an empty beer can? Even if he did, we can appreciate his hard work in promoting the cause of his home, the Kangaroo Sanctuary, and acknowledge that most mortal men will never achieve his level of body fat, keto diet or not.
Sleep easy, jacked prince, and may we betas one day escape your shadow.