A reintroduction to our friend An Inconvenient Ruth (AIR) who, when not serving as the media flak for Santa Claus (that’s really her job), enjoys providing us with words about words. Our latest breath of fresh AIR…
I threw a wish in the well,
Don’t ask me, I
I looked to you as it fell,
And now you’re in my way
Meme-itation is the sincerest form of flattery. Carly Rae Jepsen recorded “Call Me Maybe” last spring and the tune immediately went viral. While Jepsen’s video has been viewed nearly 250 million times, the inspired mashup done by the Harvard baseball team has been viewed more than 16 million times (more people have seen the Crimson lip-synch in a van than will ever see them on a diamond). Numerous parodies — not of Jepsen’s video, but of Harvard’s interpretation of Jepsen’s video — followed. Even the U.S. Olympic swim team performed one, which has been viewed more than eight million times.
We’ve become a full-fledged nation of memeickers. (A Ruthemism).
If you’re wondering when and where the word meme came from, it’s only been in play for 36 years, as coined by Richard Dawkins in his book “The Selfish Gene” (1976). Dawkins describes meme as “an evolutionary way to explain the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena.” Yet while Dawkins can take credit for coining the term, the concept of mimicking has truly been around since the beginning of mankind. We prefer to think that the ancient Greeks had a lot to do with it.
Meme was aptly derived from mmema, or “something imitated”, from the ancient Greek.
The Grecian goddess Mnemosyne was the personification of memory. As legend had it, Mnemosyne slept with Zeus for nine consecutive nights before conceiving the nine Muses. (Editor’s Note: She would never have gotten pregnant if she had just used a mnemonic device).
To this day, a muse is recognized as someone who inspires others to do their best. Muses inspire art, and art inspires memes.
Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is possibly the most ubiquitous example. Da Vinci’s nemesis, the vibrant and youthful Michaelangelo, created David, a colossal triumph of sculpture which has since been de-memed. Edvard Munch painted The Scream in 1893, unwittingly unleashing, more than a century later, a Scream meme, a bounty of meme-itations. Or how about Grant Wood’s American Gothic?
Fast forward to today and the most viral memes have become active verbs. The internet is virtually saturated in Tebowing (see, I just Rickrolled you) and Eastwooding. And if your meme is truly worth its weight in virality, it will demand its own Twitter feed, Facebook presence and YouTube channel. Who knows? It might even become, as former (and deceased) Academy Award host Bob Hope did in the 2011 Oscars, a hologram.
Thanks for the meme-ories.