Tagged for a meme

I have apparently been “tagged for a meme” by experimental chimp, which is a thrilling new experience for me.  (I am, as in all things, excessively slow in responding.)

Er… right… so … just one quick question – what’s a meme, exactly?  Are we talking Richard Dawkins here?  Or is this some new fangled craze amongst you up-to-the-minute hepcats?

You know, there are times when I feel so very, very old…


You are in a mall

This seems unlikely.

when zombies attack

Really?  Wow.  I mean, I know some of the folk in John Lewis can look like the undead, but actual zombies?  Blimey.

You have:

1. One weapon

Er… I can be quite vicious with a bitchy put-down when the mood takes me.  Would that count?

2. One song blasting on the speakers

Well, I usually find anything by James Blunt sends me into a murderous rage…

3. One famous person to fight along side you.

Graham Chapman.  He could put on an army uniform and march in saying, “Now look here, this started off as perfectly nice little sketch about a shopping mall, but now it’s just got silly.”  And then, always assuming it was a Thursday, we could have buttered scones for tea, before he served me with a writ for blatant plagiarism.


I think I may have spoiled the game.  Sorry, Mr Chimp, Sir…

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5 Responses to Tagged for a meme

  1. Er… right… so … just one quick question – what’s a meme, exactly? Are we talking Richard Dawkins here? Or is this some new fangled craze amongst you up-to-the-minute hepcats?

    Yes we are and yes it is.

    A meme, as you know, is a piece of information that replicates by being communicated from person to person. This can be something like the opening bars of Beethoven’s fifth symphony (“da da da DUM da da da DUM!”) or how to tie a knot or pictures of cats with funny, badly spelled captions. (For an in depth discussion of memes and memetics, I recommend The Meme Machine by Susan Blackmore)

    In this case, the meme is a pattern for a blog post, directly and intentionally communicated from blogger to blogger. Typically such memes contain a premise and a number of questions relating to it, although another subtype involves taking a quiz, questionnaire a survey at another website and posting the results (either in the form of text or an image provided by the quiz site).

    These are effective memes, because bloggers typically like to write posts for their blogs, often like to write about themselves and have an audience that includes a high proportion of bloggers. The practice of specifically nominating other bloggers also enhances the reproductive fitness of each meme, by adding a small amount of peer pressure. This is at the expense of dissuading those who would have copied it anyway from breaching the ‘rules’ if they haven’t been explicitly nominated.

    Far from being hep, some people find the excessive proliferation of memes to be kind of tacky – they’re low effort and fun, but shouldn’t be used them as a replacement for real content. The occasional participation is usually regarded as OK.


    You know, I may have thought about this too much.

    I think I may have spoiled the game. Sorry, Mr Chimp, Sir…

    You’ve just mutated the meme a little bit – interleaving responses with the questions, splitting the premise and introducing responses to it, shifting the context from mock-seriousness to irony and removing the nominations of others. I’d guess that last one will make this variant unlikely to propagate further, but I could be wrong.

    I’m with you on the James Blunt, by the way.

  2. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Goodness, what a very full (and fascinating) response. :o)

    Sorry about not nominating anyone, I didn’t realise that was a key part of the process. (Anyone else who’s reading this, btw, feel free to nominate yourselves if you want to – although i guess that’s another infraction of the “rules”…)

    ‘The practice of specifically nominating other bloggers also enhances the reproductive fitness of each meme’

    Yes, I can see that, although, you know, activities don’t always have to be reproductively fit in order to be fun… ;o)

    I don’t know very much about it – I’ll have to track down the book you recommend – but I never found the concept of memes very convincing. It always seemed like a rather feeble attempt to stretch a particular paradigm from an area where it fits very well (biology) to an area (culture) where it really doesn’t.

    Beethoven’s Fifth is well known, even in parts of the world (like China) that aren’t part of the western musical tradition, not because there’s anything inherently “fitter” about it than other forms of music, but because generations of people have been taught to believe that the western musical tradition is “best”, and that Beethoven’s 5th is one of its supposed pinnacles. Succesful memes, it seems to me, are consciously selected (by a cultural elite), in a way that succesful genes are not.

  3. Genes are consciously selected too. Hence all the different varieties of roses, potatoes that aren’t poisonous and tiny dogs that fit in a teacup. Cultural traditions will promote certain kinds of memes, but I don’t think this is the province of cultural elites. The theme tune of, for example, Eastenders exists in a lot of minds, but it’s not held up as a pinnacle of culture. How about the phrase “find a penny, pick it up: all day long you’ll have good luck or the idea that “antidistestablishmentarianism” is the longest English word?

    Think of it this way – evolution isn’t something that’s inherent in biology. Biological evolution is the consequence of the interactions that take place in a biological context. So we can generalise from that biological context and identify the criteria needed for these consequences to emerge. As a quick sketch of what these criteria might look like:

    1. An environment.
    2. Things that exist within that environment.
    3. A way for the things to reproduce.
    4. A way for the descendants of a thing to be different from their ancestor.
    5. A way for these differences to affect the number of descendents.

    For biology, we can fill these in as:

    1. The world.
    2. Living things.
    3. Sexual and asexual reproduction.
    4. Combining genes via sexual reproduction, mutation.
    5. Death, number of opportunities for reproduction.

    For memes, we can do the same:

    1. Minds.
    2. Ideas.
    3. Communication and observation.
    4. Misremembering, creativity
    5. Forgetting, disuse, lack of opportunities to be communicated.

    The consequences emerge from these criteria. Obviously we can’t apply the specifics of biological reproduction to memes – looking for exact equivalents of chromosome exchange would be a mistake. But we can expect to see something analogous to this taking place (eg. spoon + fork = spork or cherry + cola = cherry cola, and lots of “Weird” Al Yankovic songs). As for mutation, look up the lyrics to the song “Turning Japanese” by The Vapors. It’s easy to find lyrics sites that give the line “Everyone avoids me like a psyched lone-ranger” as “Everyone avoids me like a cyclone ranger”. It’s obviously been a very successful mutation because (looking both up on google) about 43% of sites give the misheard lyric.

    The inability to effectively define what exactly constitutes a meme is also shared with biology. Although people tend to assume that biologists have it all worked out, there’s no real agreement on what constitutes a gene and the definition is flexible depending on what’s being discussed.

    Anyway, by now it should be clear that I have way too much time on my hands at the moment…

  4. Thanks for the extra information. I don’t want to sound self-centred, but i’m quite pleased you’ve got too much time on your hands if it means we get to have interesting discussions like these. :o)

    I’m not 100% convinced still. For example, i don’t think the entries on the ‘meme list’ quite tally with the ones on the ‘gene list’ – is conscious creativity really the same as random mutation? My instict is to say that they’re not, and that inconsistencies like this destabilise the theory and will ultimately cause it to break down. But i don’t really know enough about it to say so with any confidence. I think i need to go away and do some more research, and some more thinking.

    Thanks again for putting me on to this, experimental chimp – i like a good knotty intellectual problem to get my teeth into.

    And yes, your “too much time” argument probably does apply to me too. One of these days i really will have to see about getting a life… ;o)

  5. silvawingz says:

    Doh! – I got lost in the shopping mall – meme’s sound OK to me though -aren’t all us loons supposed to be self obsessed? Oh yes and I have been singing the wrong words to “Turning Japanese” for years – no wonder I was never one of the cool kids……:)

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