(This is part of an occasional series in which we explain Internet things. We like to call it memesplaining; you might call it meme-ruining. Regardless, if you just chanced upon an image macro, hashtag, app or GIF you don't understand, we have the answers - insofar as answers can be had.)
The Meme: Ken Bone, presidential debate hero.
- What it means:
Ken Bone arrived at Sunday night's presidential debate as an undecided voter with a question for both presidential candidates. But by the time the debate was over, he'd already become something else to the Americans watching at home: a little flame of goodness and hope, still burning despite the dark tone of the majority of the debate.
He wore a comfy, bright-red sweater, and he asked a good question about energy and jobs: "What steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs, while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job loss for fossil power plant workers?"
Bone's presence in that debate was "like the human version of a hug," as one early Twitter fan wrote. And, if we're being honest, catching the internet's attention is easier when your last name is "Bone."
- Where it started:
Bone's earliest admirers were on Debate Twitter, but by Monday morning, the meme had escaped, via widespread media coverage of the man, into Facebook's trending bar and the hearts of many.
There are a couple of key moments that helped to launch Bone from "hey, that's a very red sweater" man to full-blown meme.
First: the close-up of Bone asking the question.
Second, there's Bone milling around on the stage after the debate, where Bill Clinton spots, points, and goes over to him for a handshake.
Bone has since enhanced his own meme status by embracing his encounter with fame. He went on CNN on Monday morning - still in his red sweater! - to discuss it all. "I went from, last night, having seven Twitter followers, two of which were my grandmother ... to now, I have several hundred," he said on CNN. "And I don't know why they care what I have to say, but I'm glad they're engaged in the political process."
After Sunday night's debate, Bone is "more undecided than ever," he said. Before the debate, he was leaning toward Trump. But he was impressed with Clinton's performance on Sunday.
- How to use it like you know what you're doing
There are two types of Ken Bone memes, and we're going to choose sides here. Stay away from using the meme as a way to make bullying jokes about what Ken Bone looks like.
Instead, the best Bone memes and jokes elevate the man as a mild-mannered debate "hero," the suggestion being that Bone may or may not be the person who deserves our attention the most after what happened Sunday night.
Fair warning for those of you who are thinking that Ken Bone is the October Surprise of Halloween costume ideas, though. A lot of people are thinking the same thing: it's topical, it's pretty cheap to put together, and dang does it look like a cozy outfit.
The thing is, particularly if you live in, say, D.C., I can pretty much guarantee that you will not be the only Ken Bone at the party.
- A smart observation to make at your next nerdy dinner party
Sometimes, memes based on real people instantly escape the grasp of that person, becoming something else entirely. Although the Bone meme is still pretty young - and chances are, it won't be particularly long-lived - the person who remains the best at doing the Ken Bone meme is Ken Bone himself. In a ton of interviews on Monday, he's been generous with his thoughts, and volunteered this story to the world about why he chose the red sweater:
"I had a really nice olive suit that I love a great deal," he said. "and my mother would have been very proud to see me wearing on television."
"But when I went to get in my car the morning of the debate, I split the seat of my pants all the way open. So the red sweater is plan B. I'm glad it worked out."