Memes are Green. Are you?

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“I dont eat turtle eggs” advertisement

I remember going back to Nicaragua for my first Christmas break since I started studying at Trinity. There was something different about my family, my friends and almost all people I knew in general;  I felt I was missing something in order to feel fully part of them, to feel that I still belonged to my beloved country and that studying miles away had not changed me.  Luckily I soon found out that I was still the same and the only thing I had to do was to learn the new “thing” and adapt the new “trend” that attacked the majority of the people in Nicaragua, including the people I spent my time with. As explained in Susan’s Blackmore excerpt, The Meme Machine, a meme is “is something that propagates by jumping from brain to brain, infecting a host”, it is therefore that “thing” that is passed on from person to person reaching a large number of people. This is exactly why I think about my experience in my Nicaraguan trip when talking about memes.

The meme that was present  in Nicaragua, and is still very popular, is the catchy phrase of “I don’t eat turtle eggs.” This slogan is part of an awareness campaign that deals with the preservation of turtles and turtle’s eggs.  As mentioned in the official website of the organization that is behind the campaign, Fauna and Flora International, it all started in 2007 when turtles were at the brink of extinction in Nicaragua due to the illegal selling of eggs and turtle’s skin. According to Susan Blackmore, “memes spread themselves around indiscriminately without regard to whether they are useful, neutral, or positively harmful to us” and this is very true in this case (Blackmore 7). Memes are not only supposed to be funny or passive, they can also be positive for the community and call for action. This specific meme has indeed a behavioral component that deals with spreading the word and teaching people that eating turtles eggs is not a good choice. In Nicaragua, this meme was spread out through the selling of shirts with the catchy slogan and logo of the campaign. When I said that I felt out of place in Nicaragua was because, EVERY SINGLE ONE of my friends had the shirt but me. All people were talking about it; all were wearing the shirt and all were following their role to stop the illegal activity against turtles.

Just as a true meme, I don’t eat turtle eggs campaign has evolved over the years. In the article wrote by Karina Berg, the programme officer of the campaign, reflecting on her trip to Nicaragua, we can clearly see the variation of the meme over the years. She mentions that it all started by teaching poor small communities not to nest the turtles, but then shirts were sold to citizens around the country with the catchy slogan. Nowadays the shirts can be bought in many different colors and styles. There are also billboards around Nicaragua with local artists wearing the shirts. This is a very good strategy because these people can be seen as aspirational group for other citizens, which will make want to be part of the campaign.

I believe that this particular meme has been successfully replicated due to the positive effect it has had on the Nicaraguan community. As Berg mentions in her articles “Two years ago 100% of nests were being raided for their eggs, but by harnessing the strength of a united community, training them, raising awareness of the decline in turtle numbers and involving them in the project, we have seen an almost 100% reversal of the illegal poaching trend of the hawksbills in this area.” This meme is very strong because it makes people get involve, it acts like an indirect community service; it makes people feel good about being part of those who are trying to change things for good, at least that is how it is for me. Having said that, this meme is part of a larger memeplex which is very trendy nowadays “environmental awareness” or “green lifestyle”. David Taylor, the author of the evolution of environmental awareness states that “since the last couple of years citizens of the United States (and most other nations) are vitally concerned about the quality of their physical world”.  This indeed proves that people like to get involve in campaigns such as “I don’t eat turtle eggs.”

The meme theory is very interesting. It had never occurred to me that we “humans” are imitating creatures, but it makes perfect sense. We want to belong to groups that share our same ideals but we also like to be copied. I believe that the reason why the majority of people have a twitter account is for people to retweet their thoughts, or copy their comments. The same is true for Pinterest, almost all people have an account to have followers and get people to repin their pins. It is a theory that takes into account that people like to spread ideas, fashion, religion, etc. The most useful aspect of the theory is that it takes into account that we evolve over time and so do our ideas, tastes and perceptions. I don’t have a negative opinion on memes, but I believe that one potential criticism might be that memes do not guide our day to day activities, so they are not as important as presented in the two readings read in class.

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