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“Milhouse is not a meme” is a paradoxical statement and a well-known debate on the imageboard site 4chan about what makes an internet meme and what doesn’t, using The Simpsons character Milhouse Van Houten as an example. Since the birth of the debate on 4chan in 2005, the phrase has been typically used to initiate a chain post of recursive nature. Due to its recurrence over time, “Milhouse is not a meme” is often referred to as a forced meme.
Milhouse Mussolini Van Houten is a character from The Simpsons who first appeared in Season 1 Episode 1 entitled “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire.” In the show, the character is portrayed as Bart Simpson’s best friend who is extremely nerdy and desperate for peer approval. Because of his nearsightedness and gullibility, Milhouse is oftentimes treated an easily exploitable target throughout the series. Naturally, his inability to fit in complements the fact that he is seen as a forced meme, making it all the easier for online audiences to single him out as a loser.
The catchphrase “Milhouse is not a meme” is believed to have originated from 4chan’s /b/ (random) board between 2004 and 2005, as evidenced by the Urban Dictionary definition for “Milhouse” submitted on January 26th, 2005:
Not a meme. -4chan
“Milhouse is NOT a meme!”
“Milhouse is NOT a meme is NOT A MEME!”
The debate over Milhouse on 4chan began following numerous waves of spam posts containing images of Milhouse. The catchphrase is said to have been in usage since 2005, but the earliest 4chan thread available on record dates back to October 2nd, 2007:
Google Insights shows that “Milhouse is not a meme” didn’t yield a noticeable spike in search queries until mid 2009.
Usage on 4chan
While recognizing of Milhouse the cartoon character as an Internet meme is generally disapproved on websites such as 4chan, pictures of Milhouse have been often used to indicate that someone is astroturfing, or “forcing,” a meme which did not exist in prior.
Yet another notable usage of Milhouse images on 4chan involves a lottery game thread known as GET, in which the original poster (OP) posts a picture of Milhouse and declares it a meme under one condition that one of the reply posts’" ID number sequence matches up with the digits provided in the post.
Commenter A: Millhouse is a meme.
Commenter B: Millhouse is not a meme.
Commenter C: Millhouse is not a meme, but “Millhouse is not meme” is a meme.
Following the serial comments, someone will eventually call a Combo Breaker to end the mindless Déjà vu.
As shown in the above example posts, the case of “Milhouse is not a meme” demonstrates a mysterious linguistic process known as “recursion,” in which phrases can be embedded within similarly structured sentences to generate infinite regression of a language. Yet another well-known joke that serves as an example of recursive language can be found in the following “definition” of recursion:
(n.) see recursion.
According to the Wikipedia article on “Recursion”:
To understand recursion, one must recognize the distinction between a procedure and the running of a procedure. A procedure is a set of steps that are to be taken based on a set of rules. The running of a procedure involves actually following the rules and performing the steps.