IceBae is not the frozen water equivalent of Salt Bae, sending ice cubes cascading stylishly into cups across the internet. She's a US Customs and Border Protection officer, identified as Kiara Cervantes, who provided security during Vice President Mike Pence's recent visit to a Texas Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center. On Sunday, a Twitter user encountered a photo of Cervantes standing in front of a crowded pen of migrants. This user found the image sexy, and shared it. Other users followed suit, and soon #IceBae—the most 2019 of thirst hashtags—was born.
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Emma Grey Ellis covers memes, trolls, and other elements of Internet culture for WIRED.
IceBae is hardly the internet's first controversial sex symbol. Internet rule 34 still holds true—if it exists, there's porn of it. People have thirsted after serial killers like Ted Bundy; dictator-adjacent figures like Kim Yo-jong, sister to North Korea's Kim Jong-un; and Marvel's giant purple genocidaire, Thanos. The memes that most closely mirror #IceBae in form are probably the Hot Felon memes of 2014, which catapulted convicted felon Jeremy Meeks to international fame, a lucrative modeling career, and a splashy relationship with heiress Chloe Green. It's too early to tell how far Cervantes' memetic notoriety will take her, but her Twitter account has amassed well over 40,000 followers. She'd sent just seven tweets at the time of this writing, but did post two videos wherein she thanked her supporters and hoped for something good to come from her 15 minutes of internet fame. "CBP does not restrict employees from participating in social media for personal use," a Customs and Border Protection officer told WIRED. "CBP employees are held to the highest expectation of conduct, both on and off duty."Plenty of people took issue with the Hot Felon meme when it trended, claiming it glorified crime, but it was nothing like the response to #IceBae. Almost instantly, the photo became more metaphor than meme. For one wing of American politics, the lust over #IceBae sums up the problem with the United States in 2019: racism, sexism, apathy, and a willingness to overlook and even celebrate cruelty when it's politically expedient. From another viewpoint, it's the fury over #IceBae that represents the rot: outrage culture, political correctness, and a stubborn disregard for the alleged dangers of inclusivity. Simmering underneath all that is the brutal randomness of internet culture, which can idly make meme mountains of any photograph, upending lives and making jokes out of obvious suffering in the process. #IceBae should never have happened, but now that she's here, she looks a lot like 2019.
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In the clip, the first daughter looks less welcome than a geek at the cool-kid table, and less than 24 hours after it made the rounds, writer Erin Ryan kicked off the #UnwantedIvanka meme by asking the internet to place Trump into other scenes, like soccer player Megan Rapinoe's goal celebration and Beyoncé's Coachella performance.