“Is This a Pigeon” Meme Explained

The Pigeon Meme was created from a still of a Japanese show.

Historically, the Japanese invented cartoons that heavily featured robots. Back in the olden days, animating was viciously expensive, and the Japanese discovered that if they cast robots in their shows, they didn’t need to animate mouth movements.

Cut to years later in 1991 and shows like Transformers were doing very well, so a Japanese team made Brave Fighter of Sun Fightbird from which the Pigeon Meme comes.

What is the Pigeon Meme all About?

To put it briefly, there is a scene in the show Brave Fighter of Sun Fightbird where an artificial intelligence is trying to convince humans it is a real human.

The part is played for comedy as the human-looking machine kept misidentifying very obvious things. When a butterfly appears and flies over, he should have said butterfly, but instead asks if it is a pigeon.

The scene and image still is all the funnier for the stark naivety of the picture character, and the almost gormless smile that is plastered across his face.

The scene has often been quoted in terrible translation mistakes videos and articles, but it is not a mistranslation. The English subtitles say, “Pigeon” and the word that the android uses is Hato, which is the Japanese for pigeon.

Plus, when he first says pigeon, the man he is speaking to repeats the word “Hato.” And, just to treble check the validity of the English translation, if you turn on the automated subtitles on YouTube and watch the clip.

You will see this symbol appear: 鳩

That is the symbol for pigeon in Japanese. Plus, if you were watching the show in full, you would know that the android from space was getting things wrong because he is doing a poor job of pretending to be human, and not because the Japanese to English translator got the subtitles wrong.

The 90s Made Animation Popular

Brave Fighter of Sun Fightbird got in on the ground floor when it came to 90s’ animation. Little did they know that animation was going to become a massive industry.

What happened was that the Star Wars movies had steadily grown in popularity, and the creator George Lucas had retained all the rights to make toys from the show since the production studios at the time had very little precedent for toys from movies selling well.

By the late 80s, the buzz around the Star Wars movies was still flying, and toys were banking millions for George Lucas. His whirlwind story of toy licensing success led to many production companies trying to cash in themselves, but often with no luck.

Even the Gremlins, Robocop and Ghostbusters toys were not as popular then as they are now. However, animated shows saw toy sales steadily increase.

By the 90s, production companies were crying out for any cartoons, just so they could sell toys.

By the end of the decade, production companies were so desperate that we saw shows like “Biker Mice from Mars” as published shows. Brave Fighter of Sun Fightbird came in at the right time as the animation boom began.

How Did a 90s TV Show Cause a Modern Meme?

The first rumblings came about in 2011 forums and on Tumblr as a way of mocking people who misidentified Pokémon. There was a convergence of circumstances that made it popular in and around 2018.

The distracted boyfriend meme was also popular in 2018, and some people feel that the Pigeon Meme was a competitor for that meme since similar comments could be applied to both.

Meme generators were also popular in 2018. Many of our most popular memes are as popular as they are simply because of the stock photos available in meme generators. However, in this case, it is the chicken and the egg problem:

Did the meme become popular because it was on a meme generator, or was the meme popular and then added to the meme generator? (speaking of meme generators we took the liberty of creating our own “is this a pigeon” meme generator, feel free to try it out)

Also, its seeming obscurity seemed to work in its favor.

Just like the distracted boyfriend meme, it seems some memes do better when the characters are obscure and/or unknown. It means that the general meaning of the image can come through without distractions.

When a celebrity is used, quite often the viewer needs some sort of understanding in order to fully “Get” whatever joke or comment is posted. With the pigeon meme, no such clarification was needed.

Children may have also played a role in how quickly this meme rose to popularity. Children are the ones typically on Pokémon websites, and children are likely to pass by memes with photos, but stop, like and share memes with cartoons.

Children on social media are the reasons why you keep seeing those infuriating spam posts everywhere. It is because kids click and like them in their thousands.

It is possible that children on social media helped to elevate this meme enough so that adult influencers started seeing them and making their own. The adult and children crossover audience on this meme is pretty broad and deep.

Also Read:

How the Pigeon Meme Was Killed by Twitter

Why isn’t the Pigeon Meme popular anymore? How did such a seemingly good meme stop being so popular? Did it fall from favour, or is it just another meme that has been resigned to history like the Evergreen ship memes?

The Pigeon Meme was killed by users on Twitter.

The left and alt-left turned it into a weapon to virtue signal on every topic from current politics to men being attracted to women.

It actually soured the name of the meme to the point where when people saw the meme, they didn’t even read the text, they just skipped on to the next.

It is a similar phenomenon to those animal shelter adverts that play sad music while abused animals are shown on screen.

After enough time, all donations for the shelters go down because people purposefully avoid the adverts because nobody wants to be upset by an advert.

Will the Pigeon Meme Rise Again?

In a world of remakes, reboots, soft-reboots and multiple universes, it is likely that the Brave Fighter of Sun Fightbird will be remade or remastered at some point.

At that point, people are likely to revive the Pigeon Meme to make cutting comparisons of the old show and the remade one. Ergo, we are likely to see the Pigeon Meme in the future. It just depends on how long before they remake the show.

Denise Bereford

Denise Bereford is a full-time writer and researcher with a long-standing passion for pigeons.

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