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Proposal for Rebranding

September 21, 2015


I’ve been thinking about memes lately. Not the adorable captioned photo sort, or the net-slang trends, but cultural fads that stick around and spread out and cause art.

Yes, we tend to call those genres and tropes, but really, they amount to the same thing and I think it might be more useful and relevant (or at least more interesting) if we start calling that stuff memes—discreet units of culture that can be shared over time and distances.

Examples of memes include:

Not all of these have stuck around for the whole of human history, and some have pretty defined high points or end dates, like the ghost story or the Enlightenment. But even there, I think the spread of ideas is similar to how videos go viral or how doge was a thing for … two months. It’s the cultural zeitgeist, and a desire to share and take part in interesting ideas. Blink once and suddenly everyone is doing it.

And that’s the main reason I’m proposing doing away with genre and trope and rebranding to meme: the human ability to notice ideas and find ways to reuse them, and the human desire to one-up other people and show off, is not a new thing. It’s probably a pre-Paleolithic thing.

Meme is also a more encompassing word, I think. Tropes are limited to fiction and stories. Genres are limited to fiction, music, and art. Meme is for cultural practices in general, so one can talk more holistically and draw wider comparisons—like “back to nature, free love” groups every second generation or so—or focus on details like the Alberti bass.

At the very list, I think we need to add this to the vocabulary of cultural criticism. It’s a useful concept, especially when the “viral internet meme” definition is added in. What say you?

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