A couple thoughts on memes.
I don't jive with memes. I remember back when people showed me the "I CAN HAZ CHEEZBURGER" memes a decade ago, but it took me quite a while to "get" them. For a while, I enjoyed them on Facebook or Twitter, but now when I see a meme-like image with a quote on it, I just scroll past it. They're not worth my time or mental investment.
However, my current English 11 class has confronted my habits and bias head-on: they are deeply involved and invested in meme-based thinking. Their quips and inside jokes are largely meme-ish. The class has pushed my mind into deeper thinking about how memes work and why I seem to sluff them off so much. I've found myself saying to the class, "Memes stop deeper thought," or "Memes end a nuanced conversation before we can get to the meat of it," or "Memes put down a flag before you've even reached the field," or "Memes make an in-out group mentality where it's not useful." I don't know if this sort of thinking really works, but it seems like my thoughts coalesce around "Memes stop thought."
While reading the print edition of The Globe and Mail last week, I saw an article that made reference to the following book, Memes and the Future of Pop Culture, by Marcel Danesi. It looks like it's gonna' be a good book.
The article from The Globe and Mail, "Malls, bowling alleys, and the places of our youth are disappearing. Where do we go for a nostalgic place?" by Odessa Paloma Parker, describes part of Danesi's book like this:
Danesi is the author of the recently published book Memes and the Future of Popular Culture, a work that explores how “meme culture” could bring about the end of pop culture – movie theatres, etc. – as we know it; he describes popular culture as “an experiment that may be coming to an end as we shift away from real spaces into virtual spaces.” If you think about what nostalgia means to a millennial, he’s on to something. Ferrao explains that the younger staff at Superflux have a twinge when it comes to older technology, much like she would catching a glimpse of shag carpeting or another symbol of a certain generation’s collective youth. Those even younger, under 20, might not even know how to ascribe a parallel set of emotions to a tangibly familiar place as to an evocative one, as Ferrao has done with the Barbican.
Hm. I wonder, perhaps, if my tendency to dismiss meme-thinking stems from my pop-culture stewardship. As I read the part of Danesi's book that's available through Google Books, I couldn't help but think "I get that," over and over again. But meme culture is something new, something that follows different rules, that exists in a temporal space different from my pop culture conditioning.
The thing is, I have no interest at all at playing with a culture that aims to score points by stopping conversation for a laugh, or for virtue-signalling points. So perhaps I don't belong in meme culture. I look forward to getting a copy of Danesi's book somehow.
And I have yet one more piece of data to support the following statement: I'm old.
I can't add anything to the discussion; too many excellent commentaries have been made about David Bowie since his death a couple weeks ago. "Blackstar" and "Lazarus" are excellent. But the following audio documentary, which covers David Bowie's life between the 1950s-1970s, is really good. I hope they make a similar followup documentary to cover the subsequent decades.
Albums that influenced me: Pop.
And the confusion was palpable. They didn't know how to handle it. Their eyes were glued to the screen, bewildered. Why was Bono thrusting into the camera? Isn't that girl dancing too provocatively? What are we supposed to get from the song? I had no expectations and spent a good portion of the video watching my friends, and I enjoyed this part of the experience.
But I liked the song. And when the album was officially released, most of my friends bought the CD immediately. They played it for a couple weeks and then generally stopped trying. And I set it behind me for a while. At Bible camp, where I worked for five consecutive summers, U2 was a unifying point for many of the staff, and their derision of Pop also unified them. I would often hear people say "I love U2's music, but their latest stuff isn't inspiring." "I hope Bono finds his way back." "I'm so glad he's giving voice to his doubts." People sought spiritual inspiration from U2, but Pop didn't deliver. Friends who attended the tour felt spiritually fed by the concert, but the album, as is well-known, was a dud.
But it stuck with me.
It inspired me.
When I signed up for BMG/Columbia House in 1999 or 2000 or so, I ordered Pop as one of my free CDs.
And I revelled in it. After recording the video for the "Discoteque (Hexi-Decimal Mix)," I realized that "Discoteque" was a guitar-driven rock and roll song; I kept getting drawn into "Do You Feel Loved?" for its guitarwork and throbbing drums; I enjoyed the tabooness of "If You Wear That Velvet Dress" and "MOFO;" I loved the spiritual alienation exemplified in "Wake Up Dead Man;" I appreciated the arrangement in "Gone."
Musically, Pop showed me that drum loops were OK and that guitars could be used for sounds that were decidedly un-rock-and-roll. "Do You Feel Loved?" in particular moved me to play with my pedals more to make my guitar sound less and less familiar.
Spiritually, Pop gave me a distinction from my evangelical mean: where my fellow Christians were discouraged and confused by the album, I embraced it for its worldliness. I appreciated that my friends could not assimilate or appropriate Pop into their worldview: irony doesn't sit well with evangelicals, and Pop dripped with it.
Recently I heard this podcast which helped me put Pop into a bit more context for me:
In the podcast, the hosts reorder the tracks to make a better album. Although I don't agree with all of their ideas, some of them are totally legit: "Miami" and "The Playboy Mansion" can go; "North and South of the River" should come in. It's nice to hear some other people who have battled through the album as well.
I agree that Zooropa is probably a "better album," but Pop is a bigger, more moving influence for me. Its production is far more enduring and its messages are more disparate. And for a young man trying to battle through continuous religious identity politics, it was a beacon in the night that showed me that I was different from all those Joshua Tree-loving Christians.
Here's my two-take tribute to "Do You Feel Loved?" that I recorded this summer.
My first date was watching The Little Mermaid in a basement rec room. I think. I dunno. I don't remember, really. It was a long time ago.
But I was thinking about how "flipping your fins you don't get too far," and I just realized how little sense that makes.
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