What is a meme?
According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, the word meme is defined as “an idea, behavious, style, or usage that spread from person to person within a culture”.
In the book Genes : a philosophical inquiry by Gordon Graham, Graham explains a meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures.
The term ‘meme’ is a shortening of ‘mimeme’, ancient greek meaning ‘imitated thing’. It was coined by the British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene (1976) as a concept for discussion of evolutionary principles in explaining the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. Examples of memes given in the book included melodies, catch-phrases, fashion, and the technology of building arches.
Evolution of memes
You can say memes act just like genes. Memes vary in their aptitude to replicate; successful memes remain and spread, whereas unfit ones stall and are forgotten. Thus memes that prove more effective at replicating and surviving are selected in the meme pool
Dawkins, in his book notes there are 3 conditions that must exist for evolution of memes (and in general) to occur.
- Variation, or the introduction of new change to existing elements.
This is important as it describes human nature wanting to be stimulated with new content. Content needs to be updated / changed / ‘re-vamped’ frequently otherwise the viewer / audience will just get bored with it.
When thinking about this, the “keep calm and [insert adjective]” meme comes to mind.
This meme, I feel is getting quite boring.
Yes, there are variations e.g. colour, adjective, small doodle; however these little changes are not enough for the meme evolve further.
When the ‘Keep calm and …. “ meme first got introduced, it was a big hit. The meme appeared everywhere. People made multiple variations to the adjective that follows “and”.
Business made merchandise with the words “Keep Calm and ….” on them. From t-shirts, mugs, luggage tags, phone cases, posters to door mats, mouse pads, bed sheets and more.
Businesses even made the meme to suit the different holidays. E.g.
This particular meme become a huge phenomenon. Everyone was on to it.
- Second condition is heredity or replication, or the capacity to create copies of elements
This is the idea that when something is passed down from a generation and along the way new additions are made to it. For example, a certain culture may develop unique designs and methods of tool-making that give it a competitive advantage over another culture. Each tool-design thus acts somewhat similarly to a biological gene in that some populations have it and others do not, and the meme’s function directly affects the presence of the design in future generations.
A good example of this variation is the meme on the coffee cup from a seller on etsy.com.
The seller used Star Wars esque saying and transformed the meme. Still keeping the traditional concepts of the original meme, but altered it slightly by re arranging the text and changing the doodle / drawing / image on top.
- Third and lastly is the condition of differential “fitness”, or the opportunity for one element to be more or less suited to the environment than another.
This is the idea that meme creation is aimed at replicating the given meme through interpretation rather than by exactly copying it.
E.g. at first the meme “keep calm and…” was all the hype. Through the success of this meme, new memes have been created.
Keep calm and… meme was first created in 1939 by the British Governemnt in preparation for the Second World War. The meme read “Keep Calm And Carry On”. Source.
It was simple, had a simple image and some clear words.
This was the idea that the new memes now all possess.
A meme is not really a meme without some commentary on it.
Clusters of memes, or memeplexes (also known as meme complexes or as memecomplexes), such as cultural or political doctrines and systems, may also play a part in the acceptance of new memes. Memeplexes comprise groups of memes that replicate together and coadapt. Memes that fit within a successful memeplex may gain acceptance by “piggybacking” on the success of the memeplex.
A good example of this is pet adoption advocate Anthony Rubio’s picture he shared on photo sharing site imgur.com. The picture, which features Rubio’s two chihuahuas, Bogie and Kima, and Bogie holding a business card in his mouth reading “Adopt Me, Maybe?” has generated 370,000 views since it was posted … which was just several days ago. Rubio’s goal is to encourage prospective dog owners to adopt instead of purchasing their four-legged friends from a pet store.
This ad played off the business card meme as well as hip song Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepson.
What are your thoughts on memes? What examples of clever use of memeshave you seen?