A meme, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is defined as "an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture." Memes these days spread like wildfire. Everything from celebrity gossip to socio-political movements jump from one mind to the next seemingly faster than the speed of light with the ease of electronic communications. This was Marshall McLuhan's modern vision, though his thought processes were extrapolated from historical roots.
Jenny HolzerThe subject of McLuhan's doctoral dissertation at Cambridge University was English Elizabethan pamphleteer and playwright Thomas Nashe. Prior to the advent of journalism, writers used pamphlets as a short form of communicating religious, critical, and satirical ideas. A contemporary of Shakespeare, Nashe was known for his witty, incisive observations on English society. His anti-Puritan stance led him to many a pamphlet quarrel, the Elizabethan equivalent of a poetry slam.
The power of the meme shines most brightly through art and through protest. Some powerful examples that come to mind include the light projections of Jenny Holzer, and most recently, the Occupy Wall Street movement, spurred on by the efforts of Adbusters magazine. Holzer is a feminist artist, well known for her large-scale public displays. She utilizes billboards, projections on buildings, and LED signs similar to those used in Times Square to broadcast often uncomfortable messages about consumption and women's rights.
No matter where you stand along the Occupy Wall Street spectrum, the phrase "occupy" has now undeniably entered mainstream consciousness. On my way to work the other day, I noticed someone had scrawled in spray paint on a brick wall the words "Occupy Walls." This burgeoning political movement will likely be engaging our time and attention, especially as the presidential election heats up. Perhaps it will even spawn a new era of pamphleteering with paper, electronic or some other heretofore unknown medium.
- What advertising slogans stick with you the most? Why do you think that is? Do you think that advertisements have much of an influence on your behavior (buying, lifestyle choices, etc.)?
- What memes have entered your consciousness over the past year or so?