Like other children of baby boomers, I grew up listening to The Beatles. I now listen to The Beatles regularly (okay…obsessively) and consider them one of my favorite bands. Admittedly, there was a brief period in my life when I was ashamed to like the same music that my dad liked, but I clearly came to my senses and realized it is actually pretty cool that my dad and I can communicate on the same level about a band that we both enjoy and have listened to for basically our entire lives. I think that’s what is so great about the Beatles- whether you saw their first broadcast on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, or your first discovery of their music was 30 years after their lead singer had been shot, The Beatles’ music connects and enriches each generation. It is this reason, why I think The Beatles can be considered a meme.
Despite the fact that they broke up in 1970, The Beatles and their music continue to influence today’s culture. A quick search on Amazon showed me that I could find basically anything with a Beatles logo on it- coasters, shower curtains, Christmas ornaments, hats, and more. A quick search on YouTube showed me that the hit Beatles song, “Let it Be,” has almost 34,500 covers by people of all ages, from all over the world (this one by Boyce Avenue is my favorite, because it’s a mash-up of two songs by my favorite bands). The popular movie, Across the Universe, came out in 2007 – revamping and modernizing the most popular of Beatles songs, to be enjoyed by Beatle-virgins and long-time Beatles fans alike. Ron Hale-Evans, author of our “Memetic Sex” reading assignment, explains that memes are like genes in that they “use our minds to replicate themselves.” As evident from the plethora of relevant Beatles products available today, the minds of today’s world use the minds of the people who were the original Beatles fans in order to replicate the meme in today’s society. The Beatles legacy lives on with fervor still to this day, but their music and influence has been replicated so much, that the Beatles meme has evolved to match the ever-changing world.
In addition to their music, the Beatles created Beatlemania, which is replicated today. Adoring fans would stalk the Fab Four’s every move, obsessing over their favorite candy and their love lives. American girls of every generation have had their taste of this same mania, obsessing over the likes of N*Sync, Backstreet Boys, New Kids on the Block, Justin Bieber, and One Direction.
The idea of The Beatles could be considered a meme in the larger memeplex, the British Invasion. While The Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show marked the beginning of the British Invasion, other British bands dominated the music scene as well, such as The Rolling Stones, and The Who. In addition to music, the movie Mary Poppins came out at this time, as well as the popular “Mod” fashion style. All of the aspects of the British Invasion could be considered memes, since they influenced, and continue to influence, the culture in America. I think the Beatles meme has been so widely replicated partly because of how influential that time period was to our culture. The Civil Rights movement, the JFK assassination, the Space Race, and the anti-war movement all occurred during the height of The Beatles’ popularity in America. Therefore, even though they are British, they are very much a part of American history.
Meme theory allows us to explain the seemingly unexplainable spread and evolution of ideas. However, my critique of meme theory is exactly that- can we explain the spread of ideas? Can we pinpoint an exact formula of how an idea spreads? I’m not sure that’s completely possible.