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Vernon Koekemoer is the nickname given to Cassie Booyse, a South African bodybuilding enthusiast who became an internet celebrity in 2008 after a photograph of him standing alone at a rave party in Boskburg, South Africa began circulating on the web. Similar to alpha male icons in other cultures like America’s Chuck Norris or Kenya’s Makmende, Vernon Koekemoer went onto inspire a variety of derivatives and tributes, from photoshopped images and parody films to websites and T-shirts.
The photograph of the then-51 year old Cassie Booyse was taken on March 8th, 2008, by an unidentified woman who noticed his unusual appearance at the annual H2O rave party in Boskburg, South Africa. The photographer subsequently forwarded the picture to via e-mail to her friends, among whom was a man named Bryan Theunissen.
Upon seeing the photograph, he decided to spread it further as a viral marketing experiment by dubbing the man in the picture “Vernon Koekemoer,” a common nickname in Afrikaan language which can also serve a suggestive double entendre. In Afrikkan, “koeke” means “cake” or a slang term for the female genitalia, and “moer” which can mean either “nut” or “to hit.”
On March 13th, 2008, South African blog RadioConstruction published a blog post titled “Who the Fuck is Vernon Koekemoer Anyway?” marking the first mention of the name outside of chain e-mails. On the following day of March 14th, the domain name Vernon.co.za was registered, but later transferred to CanLiketoHaveRamboGuy.co.za on the same day. On March 18th, the viral spread of Vernon Koekemoer was noted in the personal blog OneAfrikan.com.
Around the same time in mid-March, a Facebook group named Make Vernon Koekemoer Famous was launched, attracting about 1300 fans before it was shut down a few days later. The group has been since resurrected and suspended numerous times, reaching more than 5,000 fans at its height in 2008. Following the suspension of the original Facebook fan page, several other copycat pages dedicated to Koekemoer emerged on Facebook and Blueworld. There is also a Wiki-style reference site and an Urban Dictionary entry that provides additional information about Vernon Koekemoer, as well as a novelty Twitter account and a fan blog.
On March 20th, another South African blog The Playroom posted an article about Vernon Koekemoer’s internet fame while calling on its readers to send any information about his identity to the South African newspaper The Star. Less than a week later on March 26th, The Star published an article about the phenomenon while hinting that its staff had located the man in the picture.
On April 5th, The Star published an article revealing the identity of Vernon Koekemoer as “Cassie Booyse,” a 51 year old bodybuilder from Benoni, South Africa who had been unaware of his online fame, let alone the existence of Facebook, until his co-worker showed him “more than 400 [photoshopped] images” of himself. Throughout April 2008, Booyse was interviewed by South African news outlets like The Media Online and Kwela (shown below, left), as well as the UK news channel Sky News (shown below, right).
Despite its beginning as an astroturfed viral media experiment, the meme began to catch on with the rest of South African internet users who went onto produce a prolific volume of photoshopped parodies, placing his face into photographs of exotic places, historical significance or general awesomeness. Many gallery websites dedicated to the photoshop meme were launched thereafter and Vernon Koekemoer soon became associated with secondary nicknames like “H2O Guy” and “Rambo Guy.”
As the legend of Vernon Koekemoer continued to spread throughout March and April, numerous video compilation of photoshopped images as well as other forms of parodies and mash-up videos began to surface on YouTube.
Booyse eventually embraced his internet fame and went on to appear in a number of TV commercials for South African companies like Vodacom and the casual dining franchise Nando’s, one of which co-starred American actor Chuck Norris as a cameo. In addition, Booyse made a cameo appearance in the 2008 music video “Pretty Things” by South African rock band Evolver.
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