KT explains: What are monoliths and why have they taken over your social media feed?

Theories have been ranging — and raging — from movie prop to marketing ploy and, well, aliens


Karen Ann Monsy

Published: Wed 16 Dec 2020, 10:24 AM

Last updated: Wed 16 Dec 2020, 11:10 AM

Monolith memes are everywhere. It will be a month this week since news of a mysterious metallic obelisk appearing in the middle of the Utah desert first broke.

What’s gotten the Internet all worked up is that just as netizens were beginning to trace back the puzzling origins of the object, it disappeared again — and has now begun reappearing in different parts of the world. The phenomenon sparked an international craze with new monoliths reported across the globe, spawning theories — ranging from the reasonable to the ridiculous — aplenty.

Going by what appears to be an exhaustive ‘List of 2020 monoliths’ on Wikipedia, it doesn’t look like the Internet sensation is going away anytime soon. So, if you’re wondering what the fuss is all about, here’s the lowdown on all you need to know.

How did this begin?

The monolith that started this saga was first spotted by a Utah Department of Public Safety pilot during a standard survey of the area on November 18. The shiny, reflective surface of the structure caught the pilot’s attention and the helicopter crew flew in for a closer look. It didn’t take long for the ensuing report to go viral, and netizens began taking it upon themselves to decipher the structure’s exact location for themselves.

However, on November 27, a group of four men — not with the Utah Department of Public Safety — took the structure down in a bid to protect the fragile desert environment, and discourage thrill-seekers from trampling all over the untouched landscape where the first monolith was found.

What’s with all the copycats?

After Utah, monoliths quickly began appearing in Romania, California, and the Isle of Wright. Several local community members have stepped forward to claim credit for many of these — from artists, welders and designers to small business owners and even comedians tying up with YouTubers.

Why are we talking about aliens?

One of the key reasons the monoliths have fired up imaginations is because they bear a strong resemblance to the black sentinels from Stanley Kubrick’s epic science fiction film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. The appearance of monoliths in the film — which were created by an unseen alien race — always signalled a tremendous jump in human evolution.

Combined with the unprecedented events of 2020 — the unofficial slogan of which has been ‘expect the unexpected’ — it’s easy to see why observers advising caution are only partly joking.

One month on, where do we stand?

Well, nowhere in particular, if we’re being honest. As of a few hours ago, more monoliths continue to be reported — the latest being in Georgia and South Carolina in the US. The New York Times has gone one step further and now has an article on ‘How To Build A Monolith’ (although it also gives plenty of reasons for why you should not).

Plenty of brands have jumped on the bandwagon too, tapping the power of the viral sensation in creative marketing ploys.

The mystery surrounding the original Utah monolith has now waned, thanks, in part, to reports — and eagle-eyed netizens poring over Google Earth photos from several years ago — that the object could’ve been erected as early as 2016, but only brought to public notice last month.

For now, we suggest enjoying the monolith memes while they last, and before they get relegated to the annals of Internet fad history.


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