Haasch: They did surgery on a grape’s meme success lies in repetition

They did surgery on a grape.

Palmer Haasch

They did surgery on a grape.

If you’re not familiar with Twitter’s top meme of the week, allow me to paint you a picture. Imagine a photo of a grape with it’s skin delicately peeled back and tiny surgical instruments hovering above its surface. In the bottom right corner of the image is the text, “They did surgery on a grape.” A Facebook caption runs along the bottom of the image, reading, “They did surgery on a grape.” Superimposed over the photo is a Snapchat caption, stating — well, you get the idea. The entire thing is framed like an Instagram post, with the same caption running over the top of the frame.

The image originated from an Instagram meme account (@simpledorito). However, the original image (of the grape undergoing surgery) comes from a 2010 demonstration video for the da Vinci surgical system, an advanced robotic technology used for microsurgeries. In the video, a doctor from Edward-Elmhurt Health’s Edward Hospital in Naperville, Illinois carefully guides tiny surgical implements to peel a sliver of the grape’s skin backward.

The first iteration of the meme, which featured only the image and the original caption, was funny in and of itself. However, it became more “memeable” and funny with the creation of the inception-like repetition of the phrase through different social media caption formats. More importantly, it made it painfully simple for the average individual to participate. By simply posting the image and adding the caption, you become an active contributor to the meme.

When, “they did surgery on a grape,” crossed over to Twitter (the first tweet with the phrase was on Nov. 20), the simplicity of participation is what brought about its virality. However, what truly extended its life on social media was Twitter users fusing it with other popular memes. After everyone’s Twitter feeds were flooded with the meme, just the phrase “they did surgery on a grape” became a strong enough signifier that the accompanying image wasn’t necessary. In turn, it gained new life through other memes. One of these reads, “Ladies, if he: is thick skinned, always hanging out with a bunch of friends, recently got out of surgery, That’s not your man. That’s a grape. And they did surgery on him.” 

Ultimately, “they did surgery on a grape” is testament to today’s meme economy. There’s frequent crossover between platforms (in this case, Instagram to Twitter), which brings the potential for recombination and further virality. The meme’s success comes its humor that lies in repetition, thus opening the door to reimagination and simple participation. It seems, however, that like all memes, it’s reached the end of its life cycle. A quick Google Trends search reveals that its frequency as a search term has been steadily decreasing over the past week. Inevitably, memes fade into cringe status; the grape is finally being discharged.