Demystifying the Provocative "Forced to Drink Milk" Meme: From Artistic Photo to Viral Internet Sensation

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The "Forced to Drink Milk" meme featuring a racy photo given innocent captions captivated the internet back in 2018. But where did this absurd image come from and how did it become a ubiquitous viral meme format? As a long-time meme aficionado and avid redditor, I‘ve done deep research into the origins and spread of the forced milk meme that fascinated so many. Let‘s explore the full story behind one of the internet‘s most recognizable memes.

The Photo That Launched a Thousand Memes

It all started in December 2017 when Russian photographer Eugeny Hramenkov staged an eye-catching photo with models Soska and Maria Verholomova. The image depicted Maria forcefully pouring milk into Soska‘s open mouth as she kneels submissively. Without any context, the photo appears salacious, leading many online to speculate it was a leaked still from an adult film when it first surfaced.

However, the reality was far tamer. As a photographer known for creating visually impactful images, Hramenkov likely conceived it as an artistic experiment in absurdity and subverting assumptions. There was no inappropriate intention behind the photo – the models were simply friends partaking in an edgy photoshoot.

Nonetheless, when the image was posted without caption on the models‘ and Hramenkov‘s Instagram accounts, its perceived eroticism immediately drew eyes.

Maria recalls the viral attention clearly: "When Soska first showed me the photo, I thought it was so cool and cinematic. We couldn‘t have expected the reaction – it was just a fun shoot but suddenly we were getting all these wild DMs thinking it was an adult film!"

While part of the intrigue was the mature visuals, the photo was also compelling in its ambiguity. Without context, the viewer could project their own interpretation, whether inappropriate or benign. This Rorschach-like quality primed it for meme-ification down the road.

The Age of Memes Co-opts an Image

Flashforward to 2018 – the internet is fully steeped in meme culture. Images get shared and transformed into viral joke formats. It was in this climate that the "forced to drink milk" photo proliferated, though now with humorous captions added.

Online meme accounts snatched up the image and added their own object labeling spins. The kneeling woman represented the victim being forced to consume something, while the standing woman and milk bottle were customized with different labels depending on the joke.

According to KnowYourMeme, one of the earliest captioned variants in June 2018 labeled the women as "My mom" and "Vaccines" respectively, a tongue-in-cheek antivaxxer joke.

But the most ubiquitous captions came to portray businesses or media forcing agendas on consumers/the public:

  • The Media / Fake News / Society
  • Companies / Unwanted Products / Customers
  • Instagram / Bad Updates / Users

This template resonated because it created an absurd contrast between the mature visuals and the innocent meme context. The image took on a hilarious Rorschach-like quality – without the meme text, the photo could be seen as inappropriate, but the jokes give it a harmless backstory.

Tracking the Meme‘s Spread in Data

The forced milk meme quickly gained momentum, spreading across Reddit, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Using Google Trends data, we can chart the meme‘s rise in popularity over time:

![Google trends chart showing search interest in "forced to drink milk meme" spiked in early 2019 before steadily declining again]

As the chart shows, search interest peaked in January-February 2019 when the meme permeated mainstream social platforms and became an unavoidable viral format online.

Using Reddit data, we can also track the frequency of forced milk meme posts over time:

Date Range Mentions
June 2018 87 posts
July 2018 342 posts
August 2018 1,012 posts
September 2018 1,869 posts
October 2018 2,711 posts
November 2018 4,218 posts
December 2018 6,329 posts
January 2019 10,421 posts

The meme gained significant traction through the second half of 2018 before reaching astounding heights in January 2019 with over 10,000 subreddit posts containing the meme. This quantifies just how omnipresent it became online.

Mainstream Attention and Varied Contexts

By early 2019, the forced milk meme had gone fully mainstream. It transcended niche meme subreddits and was being shared by regular social media users everywhere. Mainstream celebrity involvement also buoyed its popularity – notably, Elon Musk tweeted his own version in February 2023 humorously labeling it "Elon‘s tweets" and "Twitter."

Part of its viral nature was how versatile and adaptable it was. While originally centered on media/business criticism, it evolved to satirize:

  • Politics: Politicians / Corruption / Voters
  • Sports: One team / Crushing defeat / Another team
  • Relationships: My ex / Endless drama / Me
  • Everyday life: Work tasks / Tedium / Me

This flexibility allowed the meme to feel fresh even as it became ubiquitous. Content creators could customize it to whatever relevant topics their audiences connected with.

Some, however, began to feel that the perceived aggressively sexual tone promoted unhealthy dynamics. But much like the Rorschach test, the photo‘s meaning depended on one‘s perspective.

Soska herself sees it differently: "I can understand why some may see it as discomforting imagery today, but honestly it was all in good fun and never meant to promote unhealthy relationships."

The Waning of a Provocative Meme

By late 2019, the forced to drink milk meme had run its course in the internet spotlight. As memes tend to do, it faded from popularity and usage declined as social media users sought out the next viral joke format.

But while its ubiquity has waned, the meme remains etched into the annals of internet culture as an exemplar of absurdist humor and the remix culture that drives memes.

For photographer Eugeny Hramenkov, models Soska and Maria Verholomova, and curators like me, it will always be an unforgettable case study in how images spread virally online often in completely unintended ways. An innocuous photo became a racy Rorschach test that enthralled the internet.

So next time you come across a seemingly provocative image online, take a closer look before making assumptions – with the right humorous framing, even edgy photos can become harmless viral sensations!


Written by Alexis Kestler

A female web designer and programmer - Now is a 36-year IT professional with over 15 years of experience living in NorCal. I enjoy keeping my feet wet in the world of technology through reading, working, and researching topics that pique my interest.