How BDE became one of the internet's biggest, and worst, memes of the year

Like many of my generation, I am shook at how quickly the internet shapes language, how new thoughts hit every part of the globe instantaneously and take hold. What was once a cool joke between a few friends can become a thing the whole world is doing … like getting #thinspo or eating dishwasher detergent tabs.

This is not to throw shade at the internet. Like all of us, I adore the instant connection with the world, the news, the analysis, the debate and the endless parade of weird, hilarious, sick and cute content uploaded by our fellow human beings. I just watched a video of a little boy getting knocked over by puppies on my twitter feed and my world is just a little better for it.

A meme is simply an element of culture or system of behaviour passed from one individual to another and the internet is a meme factory. It is why more than a few of us were saying "cash me ow-sai" for a shameful week a couple of years ago. Planking. Rick-rolling. Kim Kardashian and various other odd things "breaking the internet", (which, we all know, just means "very popular"). The guy looking back at a girl on the street while holding his horrified girlfriend's hand … thing. They never stop.

Inside jokes

My recent favourite is BDE. For those of you fortunate enough to have avoided it, BDE is, erm, Big Dick Energy. But don't be offended or uncool, kids, it's not about having an actual large penis, apparently. It's about having the swagger or confidence you'd have if you were a man proud of his enormous todger. So a woman can exude an aura of BDE, apparently.

It comes from a now-deleted tweet from singer Ariana Grande, about her boyfriend, Pete Davidson, who "got that BDE".

Revered and recently retired SBS newsreader Lee Lin Chin has it, I have read, and I have to agree.

Tracy Grimshaw was unaware of BDE when questioned about it on the Logies red carpet.

"What the hell? Wash your mouth out Ange, really?" said an understandably surprised Grimshaw to reporter Angela Bishop, who asked the question gleefully by earpiece through a terrified reporter on the ground.

And it continues...

Last week, at my day job, a guy joined us from the "Paris office" (I know, right?) also called Phil. He sits near me, we're working on a project together, with the same team. So, when someone says, "Hey, Phil, can you …?" it's inevitably hilarious when we go "Yeah, Mate?" in unison. Well I say that. Paris Phil says "How may I help you?"


At one stage we high-fived, congratulating ourselves on the "Big Phil Energy" in the room.

A young woman on heels instantly explained the joke to the few who didn't get it. She sauntered about and said "BDE is acting like a dude with a big one, even though you're not a dude with a big one. I got that BDE" she shouted.

A long discussion on BDE ensued.

Not as it seems

But I don't buy the whole thing about it not really being about one's penis. Consider the reverse, which would of course be "Big Vagina Energy". If you swap out the word penis for vagina, here's how the Urban Dictionary Definition of BVE would read. "Big Vagina Energy, or BVE, is that confidence you got knowing you got an enormous vagina, but BVE isn't exclusive of the well-endowed. Anyone can have Big Vagina Energy if she (or he!) exudes the BVE aura."

I have absolutely nothing against vaginas, but I just can't see this catching on.

So, yes, it is absolutely and specifically about penises. BDE is a light-hearted idea with an insidious message that raced around the world.

It emphatically confirms the myth that to be a true, strong, virile man, you've got to have a BD. What's the big deal?

Just a little joke

Well, many men, especially young men, are, deep down, as emotionally vulnerable and self-doubting as women. I don't know many men who'd say "Yep, I'm very happy with the size of my old fella. It's quite impressive, actually." This is despite the majority of our members being pretty much the same size.

Salamis and button mushrooms a rare find on the sexual smorgasbord.

Sure, BDE was just a silly internet joke, and I helped spread it. But at a time when the nature of masculinity is being questioned around the globe, thanks again to the internet, this was one distinctly retrograde idea that sat in a billion heads.

Perhaps what young men need to worry about is BLE … "Big Love Energy".

To exude that BLE aura, just walk around like you've got great big love in your pants. Or heart. Or wherever. That'll give you confidence and make you attractive.

BDE shouldn't be a thing. BLE should be. #BLE

With more than 25 years in Australian media, Phil Barker has edited NW and Woman's Day magazines, and published such titles as Vogue, GQ, Delicious, InsideOut and Donna Hay. He is a consultant creative director and communications specialist, currently writing a book on "man stuff" for publisher Allen & Unwin. He is a regular commentator on the lives and style of Australian men.

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