The specific meme I will be discussing is “Thug Life”, which was coined by the deceased hip/hop artist Tupac Shakur. During Tupac’s career, he propagated the idea of “Thug Life”. This idea caught the eye of young, poor and disenfranchised people. Tupac was not only a rapper, but also an activist for young, black males who live the “Thug Life.” What he meant was the struggle of poor people, living day-to-day trying to make it out of poverty. Although he stated this fact in interviews, his music led on to a different meaning of the meme and thus has different variations. What many anti-hip/hop activists believed it meant was the life of a criminal and many young kids thought that as well and acted accordingly. The rise of mass media has made the dissemination of ideas easier and more efficient. This meme is replicated through Tupac’s music, his tattoo on his stomach, and the general way he acted when he was alive.
This meme exists in the realm of ideas and also has a behavioral component. In the realm of ideas the meme is a signpost or a slogan for the struggle of poor people trying to elevate themselves out of poverty. The behavioral aspect can have several components. One side is giving people the courage to struggle to get out of poverty. Music resonates with people’s souls and can give them a psychological boost to try to accomplish something. As a role model, Tupac’s idea of “Thug Life” was able to alter the behavior of young people in a beneficial way. On the other side there is the fact that “Thug Life” can cause people to continue their criminal activities. Listening to Tupac’s music, a young kid can hear him propagate the idea of being a “criminal”. Tupac created an idea that caused people to act in different ways, one positive and the other negative. In Richard Dawkins forward, he provides an example of how ideas can change as it is passed from one person to another. “Presumably, if we lay the drawings out in order, we shall note some resemblance between each one and its immediate predecessor and successor, but the mutation rate will be so high as to destroy all semblance after a few generations (Blackmore et al, p.9).” What possibly happened to Tupac’s idea of “Thug Life” was that there was not a definitive set of instructions telling youth on what the idea means. It originally was an idea of struggle, but after several years it is now a combination of all out criminality and the former.
I believe this meme started with his mother being in the Black Panthers. The idea of black power and the struggle of African Americans over the white suppressor probably resonated with the young Tupac and later ended up in his music. Starting with Tupac’s mother in the Black Panthers, continuing with Tupac’s term “Thug Life”, and now ending or continuing further with what the youth believe was Tupac’s original message. It’s evolutionary success stems from the civil rights movement and the profound desire of African Americans to rise out of poverty and gain equal rights as everyone else. I believe this meme falls into the memeplex of powerful and iconic phrases or acts from civil rights activists. Martin Luther Kings “I have a dream…” line to Rosa Parks not sitting in the back of the bus. These actions and ideas have transferred from host to host, meaning different things from generation to generation.
I think the meme theory is great and makes a lot of sense. Genes, just like ideas, must survive natural selection to survive. The evolution of an idea, as Dawkins states, depends on the elements of variation, heredity, and differential fitness. If an idea cannot survive in various elements then how can it survive? If an idea cannot be replicated, then how can it survive? And finally, if the idea doesn’t even fit in the environment in which it originated, then how can it survive? As I stated earlier, the rise of mass media and the internet has made it easier for ideas to travel from one place to another rather than being localized. One criticism is about an idea that potentially stays localized and doesn’t travel outside say of a small region. Can it still be called a meme or is it just an idea? It can be hard to differentiate a meme from an idea at times.