About a year ago, a meme was born in the Academic Support Center at MU.
"All of the birds died in 1986 due to Reagan killing them and replacing them with spies that are now watching us," says then-MU senior Kendrick Smith in the TikTok that would later go viral. "The birds work for the bourgeoisie."
One of Smith’s friends had told him about an internet conspiracy theory, which became a joke and a t-shirt slogan, that "birds aren't real" and are actually government drones. With the wild theory in his head, Smith said the words to Cooper's camera.
The video was the product of Smith and his friend Marcelese Cooper goofing off, but it turned into something of an internet sensation. Smith didn’t realize until people ranging from close friends to his mom's friends to a reporter from Australia started talking to him about it. People made fan art, from t-shirts to animations to paintings.
But Smith is more than his TikTok fame. The 24-year-old graduated from MU with degrees in digital storytelling and English. He's comedian and a filmmaker. Alongside Cooper, Smith co-founded a production company called Kill My Dog Productions.
He says that in a way, the experience of going viral contributed to his career goals. He's known as "the bird meme guy," but wants to create a name for himself as well as use his platform to build his future in media and entertainment.
"I like making content, and I enjoy it anytime other people can find some kind of value from whatever I made," he says. "I like engaging with people, and this has allowed me to interact and engage with people in a way that I never have before.”
One of those engagements came when Smith started working at Ukatsu, a local youth development organization. One child knew of the video, and when he first met Smith, he "freaked out." The pair then spent time playing Dungeons and Dragons together.
"It was a powerful moment realizing that the dumb video I made with my friends could have such an impact and an effect on people," Smith says. "I feel very undeserving, but it’s the reality in which we live."
For Smith, art, comedy and filmmaking are ways to cope during hard times. He says he's learned about the communities that form in these industries and the way the work can help him connect with himself. He's more than a meme, but his 15 minutes of internet fame taught him a thing or two.