The Oxford English Dictionary defines a meme as “a cultural element or behavioural trait whose transmission and consequent persistence in a population, although occurring by non-genetic means (esp. imitation), is considered as analogous to the inheritance of a gene.” According to meme theorists, both memes and genes are subject to laws of natural selection.
The scientist Richard Dawkins argues that evolution depends on the presence of three elements: variation, heredity, and differential fitness. Variation means it must be possible for genes (and memes) to change when combined with new elements. Heredity means that it must be possible for genes (and memes) to be copied and replicated. Finally, differential fitness suggests that evolution will favor genes (and memes) that are more well suited to their environment.
In a short (4-5 paragraph) blog posting, discuss a successful meme that continues to be propagated in contemporary culture. In your discussion, be sure to address the following questions:
- What is the specific meme and how is it replicated?
- Does the meme exist purely within the realm of ideas, or does it also have a behavioral component?
- How has this meme evolved and changed over the years? (Dawkins refers to this as variation.)
- Why do you think this meme has been so widely replicated? (Dawkins refers to this as differential fitness.) What is it about the meme’s interaction with the environment that might explain its evolutionary success?
- Is this idea part of a larger “memeplex?” If so, what are some affiliated memes that are also included in that memeplex?
- In your final paragraph, step back and consider meme theory itself. What is most useful and/or intellectually exciting about this perspective. What is at least one potential criticism of meme theory?
- Be sure to include at least one specific link to the course readings (or additional academic articles about memes) in your blog posting.
- If you choose to link to a YouTube video, you must embed the video in your posting. If you encounter problems with video embedding, you can ask for help from the class mailing list (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Though you might be tempted to focus on a recent viral video or Internet meme, you should only do so if you are positive that you can address all of the questions listed above. It’s possible to write an excellent blog posting about an Internet meme, but the bar will be slightly higher and you should be making particularly tight connections to each the bullet points listed above.
As always, you should thoroughly proofread your posting for writing mechanics. Your posting should include a relevant, captioned image and it should include at least one annotated hyperlink. This assignment is due no later than 1:59 am on the morning of Wednesday, 10/3. (Note: The syllabus lists a due date of 10/1 but I have shifted the due date to 10/3).
An example of an embedded video can be found below.