Saturday, July 28, 2012

Whatever Do You Meme?

Personally, I am getting a little tired of the memes. 

Not sure what a meme is? If you’ve seen a picture of a famous person with a quote next to it that was intended to represent someone’s entire opinion on a highly complicated political or social issue, you’ve seen a meme. Or, if you’ve seen two pictures of Glenn Close, side by side, where one has a cigar Photoshopped in and the slogan: “Glenn Close/Glenn Close, But No Cigar”, you’ve also seen a meme. Early chain letters are a form of memes; commonly misquoted facts or information are, in a sense, also a type of meme.

 Memes are defined as an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture. There is a study devoted to memes (memetics), with origins and connections to evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who, has himself been the featured subject of a meme or two. 
The current picture/quote incarnation of memes seem to be bent on replacing actual conversation on the Internet. I engage in political discussions/arguments on line (more often than I should), and frequently, rather than taking the time to type out their thoughts or opinion, people will find a picture of someone famous that has some attractive slogan that agrees with their basic sentiments on it, and post that.

It’s one of the more irritating aspects of the Internet these days. “I realize you have a well-reasoned argument, facts out the wazoo and the ability to type your thoughts in a persuasive manner, but I have a picture of Lorne Greene cuddling a baby deer with a line from “Battlestar Galactica” next to it that sums up my side, so, suck it, Word-Boy.”

I’m not entirely opposed to memes: I have actually written and circulated several, with minor “success”. But they were, in my opinion, carefully thought out and based on easily proven facts. A well-crafted meme can stimulate conversation and possibly educate or illuminate another facet of a complicated issue. In one case, I created a meme to counteract the fallacies of someone else’s – in a sense, fighting meme with meme.

Those coming up with memes vie for the greatest honor of all – the hope that one day George Takei will select one of your memes for reposting. If it weren’t for that guy, half of the Internet would have nothing to post to each other. Comedian Soren McCarthy created a meme encompassing gays, the “sanctity of marriage” and the TV show The Bachelorette that was shared by Takei with his 2.1 million-plus followers and saw his activity skyrocket.

 “I got about 180 shares through friends when I posted to my own page,” reports McCarthy. “George's post lead to over 41,000 likes and 18,000 shares. I probably had 100 messages of appreciation from strangers, with 20 trying to friend me, and added 30 to my Twitter feed.”

McCarthy continues, “It's fascinating, in the comments section, how the messenger is the message, i.e. "George Takei cracks me up," even though he is not the author. He's a conduit for material and has very good taste and a discerning eye for selection, which is, in itself, extremely valuable considering all the mediocre crap out there.”

Was there negative response to McCarthy’s meme?

“I didn't consider my piece overtly pro-gay so much as "pro-logic". That said, considering who George is, and his brave advocacy for years, I was amazed there was so much homophobic hostility directed at my joke. Why would those people follow George Takei?”

No one currently monitors the validity of memes. There is no bureau for meme accuracy or verification.  I’ve seen several quotes attributed to JFK that seem outrageous, and, upon further checking, turned out they were completely unverifiable as having been written, spoken or even yelled by Kennedy as he was running through the corridors of the White House, playfully chasing John-John. 

“The, er, uh, Zionist bankers are running our banks and stopping our, ah, erhm… wonderful country from achieving its fullest potential… Now come back here, you little Scamp…!”

You can point out to whoever posted the meme that the quote doesn’t come from the indicated source, and you generally get the same response, “It says what I agree with.” Which is like saying, “Facts are for losers. Get over it.”

Come on. You have to respect knowledge, or we’re all going to become more stupid than we already are. Don’t share false information because it forwards your agenda or bias. We used to call that lying. Take a minute and check the facts on something, on everything, before you post. Circulating misinformation is senseless in the Information Age.

This isn’t how we should be engaging with each other over vital topics. At this point, I think we can all agree that we need solutions to issues like unemployment, shoring up our economy or controlling deficit spending. Tossing out memes in place of actual discussion is the equivalent of holding a Presidential debate and having the candidates hold up bumper stickers in response to every question from the moderator.
“You are running on a campaign that pledges to lessen our dependence on foreign oil. What, exactly, is your energy policy?”

The candidate thrusts out his jaw, raises a 2x9 piece of vinyl. Camera zooms in on: “Ass, gas or grass, nobody rides for free!”

Deafening applause. Cue the collapse of Western civilization.


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