Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Holy horsing around!

Kids are ponying up for fake horse heads as phenomena goes 'manestream'

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I was staring blankly into the home computer the other day when, suddenly and without warning, someone knocked on the door.

It was a husky delivery guy in a brown uniform toting a medium-sized cardboard box.

My daughter flung open the door and signed for the parcel, which she ripped open with obvious delight.

"It's here!" she squealed. "It's here!"

Before I could say a word, she reached into the box and, like a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat, plucked out her prize -- a large rubber horse head mask.

As a crusading journalist, I was curious. "What is that?" I asked in my best reporter's voice.

"It's a horse head mask," my daughter replied.

I tried to furrow my brow. "I can see that," I observed. "I'm just wondering why you had one delivered."

My daughter rolled her eyeballs to indicate how disappointed she was to have such a dim bulb for a dad. "It's an anniversary present for my boyfriend," she explained.

You will be surprised to hear this, but I decided to probe deeper. "Why did you get him a rubber horse head mask?" I asked in a non-judgmental fatherly tone.

"Because it's a thing," she replied.

"A thing?" I asked.

This was greeted by more eyeball rolling to underscore how out of touch I am with popular culture. "Yes," she sniffed. "It's a thing! Look it up on the Internet!"

And so, what with being an investigative journalist, that's what I did. And, as it turns out, my daughter is right: For thousands of hip young people around the world, wearing rubber horse head masks is a major thing.

If you type "horse head mask" into your Google search engine, you will get, in less than a second, about 7,190,000 results, which, for all you modern parents, is probably not a good sign.

According to dozens of stories and websites I perused, for the last couple of years, stuffing your face into a horse head mask has been what we used to call a fad -- like swallowing goldfish or cutting your hair like Justin Bieber -- but is now known as an Internet "meme," defined as "something incredibly stupid somebody does and then everyone else in the (bad word) world copies it and posts random photos of themselves on social media sites, even though it makes them look like complete idiots."

A good example would be the meme known as "planking," wherein people share photos of themselves pretending to be a plank of wood via the technique of lying down in a bizarre location with their arms rigidly at their sides.

Other Internet photo crazes include "owling," in which the person in the picture perches on a random object and stares off into the distance; "teapotting," wherein the subject bends their arms to resemble, as in the children's song, a little teapot short and stout; and "milking," where you are photographed pouring a carton of milk over your head in a public place.

If you want to be extremely hip, however, you need to share photos of yourself wearing a latex horse head mask with a faux fur mane, with the classic version made by Seattle-based novelty dealer Archie McPhee & Co. and sold for $24.95. To up your cool quotient, you can plunk down $62 for the "horse mask and smoking jacket combo."

Recently, Google Street View famously captured a photo of a kid in Aberdeen, Scotland, who apparently spotted their camera car coming while walking to the local pub and decided (why not?) to slip into his latex horse mask.

Equally famous online is the shirtless jogger who, wearing only a bathing suit and a horse head mask, pumped his fists and galloped past an NBC news crew as they broadcast live coverage of hurricane Sandy.

In a late-breaking development, some young people are now branching out and posting photos of themselves wearing the heads of monkeys, squirrels, pigs, elephants, ducks, unicorns and -- as shown by a gaggle of young people posing for Google Street View in Japan, where the horse thing reportedly began -- pigeons.

But the horse still leads the pack, as we discovered while visiting friends during a recent holiday on the West Coast and telling them about my daughter's odd gift to her boyfriend.

Which is when my buddy Jim shouted to his 21-year-old son: "Dylan, show Uncle Doug your horse head mask!"

Moments later, their son proudly trotted out in his own latex horse head, so I took his picture with my iPhone and sent it to my daughter.

Seconds later, my phone bleeped. "You see," my daughter sniffed coldly in her texted reply. "I told you it was a thing!"

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 21, 2013 A2

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