fimmtudagur, júlí 06, 2006


Oh, how I hate the meme.

I have never read Dawkins. I probably wouldn't have anything much against him if I did. But, oh, how I hate the meme as an idea. Observe the Wikipedia entry for meme. A handy list of common memes is included. Here are some of them:

* Jokes (or at least those jokes popularly considered funny).
* Proverbs and aphorisms: for example: "You can't keep a good man down".
* Nursery rhymes: propagated from parent to child over many generations, sometimes with associated actions and movements.
* Children's culture: games, activities and taunts typical for different age groups.
* Epic poems: once important memes for preserving oral history; writing has largely superseded their oral transmission.
* Conspiracy theories
* Fashions
* Medical and safety advice: "Don't swim for an hour after eating" or "Steer in the direction of a skid".
* Movies: very memetic given their mass replication — people tend to replicate scenes or repeat popular catch phrases such as "You can't handle the truth!" from A Few Good Men or "Alllllllrighty then!" from Ace Ventura, even if they have not seen the movie themselves.
* Religions: complex memes, including folk religious beliefs, such as The Prayer of Jabez.
* Viral marketing: A type of marketing based on memes and using word of mouth to advertise.
* Group-based biases: everything from anti-semitism and racism to cargo cults.
* Internet phenomena: Internet slang
* Anecdote: short joke/story

Observe the Wikipedia entry for folklore. A handy list of genres is included. I have reproduced it below with some color coding: Where a folklore genre corresponds closely to an element on the meme list, the genre and the meme have been given the same color.

* Ballad
* Blason Populaire
* Counting rhymes
* Costumbrista
* Custom
* Folk play
* Epic poetry
* Festival
* Folk speech
* Folk art
* Folk belief
* Folk magic
* Folk metaphor
* Folk poetry and rhyme
* Folk simile
* Folk song
* Folk tale
o Animal tale
o Fairy tale
o Jocular tale
* Games
* Holiday lore and customs
* Joke
* Legend
o Urban (or Contemporary) legend
* Material culture
* Myth
* Memorate
* Proverb
* Riddle
* Superstition and popular belief
* Taunts
* Weather lore
* Xerox lore

Not listed among these genres are catch phrases and traditional advice or folk wisdom (e.g., steer into the skid), but they too are supposed memes that fall well into the ambit of folklore. And fashion is a subset of material culture, that is, costume. At the head of the entry, we are told that Dawkins also regarded ways of making pots or of building arches as memes. I think that would be material culture, don't you?

Worse yet, Dawkins has some superorganic notion of how the blessed memes circulate, replicate, etc., heavily reliant on a biological metaphor. Folklorists (who, viz. abovementioned entries, have been studying this sort of cultural phenomena longer than the memologists) tossed out the biological metaphor and superorganicism a long time ago.

Tell me again why we need this meme thing.

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