When I was in high school, a very popular (and in my opinion quite dumb) meme made its way around high schools and colleges across the nation: Planking. You really couldn’t go on Facebook without seeing the latest plank; it was as if all teenagers suddenly had a carnal desire to lay on top of something. According to the official Planking website, in order to correctly replicate a plank, “you must lay face down, your legs must remain straight and together with toes pointed, and your arms must be placed by your side, held straight with your fingers pointed.” Although Planking has for the most part died out in its original form, it spawned an entire memeplex of behavioral imitations some of which include Tebowing, Griffining, Batmanning, and Horsemanning.
I feel the need to point out that the reality of how ingrained these memes are in our popular culture only just dawned on me when all of these words were recognized by my computer’s spell check as being actual words. In a Washington Post article by Elizabeth Flock, she says that Planking, originally known as “The Laying Down Game,” probably originated from the 1993 film The Program, where a quarterback planks on the yellow line in the middle of the road as cars passed by. This led to many deaths as teenagers in the real world tried to prove their bravery and do the same. Eventually the scene was cut from the movie and Planking seemingly faded out until 2006 when two British students posted pictures of themselves Planking to a website. After this reappearance, Planking took off and became a game of trying to Plank in the most creative and innovative places. This is perhaps what has made Planking so widely replicated. It can virtually be done anywhere, on anything, and by anyone. In fact, the places one would think a plank would never occur are the exact places serious Plankers plank.
According to Susan Blackmore, “memes spread themselves around indiscriminately without regard to whether they are useful, neutral, or positively harmful to us” (Blackmore 7). Planking fits this characterization perfectly. It is difficult to view Planking as particularly useful, especially when you consider that in the actual act of Planking, the individual is in one of the most useless positions possible: lying on their stomach. What’s more is that Planking has proved to be harmful to people: an Australian man fell to his death while planking on a balcony (Flock). This is perhaps what led to the eventually dissipation of Planking and helped its less dangerous affiliated meme become so popular.
Blackmore also states that “memes strike at our deepest assumptions about who we are and why we are here” (Blackmore 8). While it is difficult for me to see Planking, or any of its associative memes, as an answer to the meaning of life, I can see Blackmore’s point. What is it about positioning the body in a certain way that lends itself to be copied? The answer, perhaps, is that human beings have an innate desire to out-do one another’s creativity; we want the recognition of Planking or Tebowing or Griffining in the most unusual, dangerous, and creative place. But it could also be just the opposite. Maybe human beings as a whole are so uncreative, that when we are introduced to a particular idea that strikes us as genius, we feel the need to copy it, to make it our own and stake our claim in its creation and evolution. This is a fascinating idea!
While I don’t think that memes can lead to the answer to all of life’s questions, I do think it is a particularly important way of examining the human mind. From infancy, humans instinctively copy actions and words, and eventually we begin to create our own habits to be copied and reproduced. To think that the simple act of imitation could shine light on how the creative mind works is amazing.