George Takei

Mainstream memes

The word meme is getting tiresome.

It was not that long ago when the only people who used the word ‘meme’ were pretentious assholes and graduate students. And the only difference between them was the latter had an advanced education, preferred black and white movies, and smoked American Spirits because it was more socially conscientious. (The ones in the light blue pack were my favorite. I mean, hypothetically, of course).

Now ‘meme’ has gone mainstream. It describes any internet phenomenon that keeps popping up in American culture over and over despite being extremely stupid in the first place. Like Rick Rolling, planking, or Sarah Palin.

The word does fit. But, in the old days, we knew what meme meant. It meant, if you casually dropped the word ‘meme’ in passing conversation at a party, you were almost certainly going to knock boots with someone that evening. It was a sign that you read Richard Dawkins, before he was cool. You stopped liking him when he sold out and started doing critical thinking “just for the money”. I mean, or so I have read.

Memes generally come out of the oven dry. This is because they spread very quickly over the Internet, especially via Twitter. Social media in general represent the industrialisation of the meme. One of these, the Keep Calm and Carry On with the little graphic crown, appears to have instantly gone from sincere to farce in a matter of mements.

In the beginning, they were printed up and taped around the cubicles by someone who actually believes that a trite expression will motivate you through the more excruciating ordeals of one’s working life. If you are motivated by Keep Calm and Carry On you’re a psychopath. You should not be allowed near firearms, matches or puppies. Once a year, you may light a sparkler. But that’s it.

Obviously, other people felt this way. They responded by satirizing the notion of motivationalism, with ironic twists that seemed to also have been stamped from a template. Instead of Keep Calm and Carry On, we got Now Panic.

But I think people have taken this particular meme a little too far, into vulgar and strange places. See for yourself:

Now, honestly. Is there any reason for this kind of indecent material? Clearly it was the product of a crude, juvenile imagination. Sure, a lot of men probably would find this poster handy to tape up in a prominent place in their offices. In those cases, it would function as a kind of “health and safety” notice, sort of like Employees must wash hands or How to give the Heimlich Maneuver. But perhaps there is a more subtle way to say it.

Some of the posters have no excuse, though.

Not all the posters are of a sexual nature. In fact, some even have a comfortable domesticity about them. Like this one:

But the majority, as I say, are nonsensical. So please, if you’re going to propagate a meme, at least be smart about it. And try above to be as cogent as I am.