Athletes have many trademarks, some of which gain more attention than others. The outspoken Christian Tim Tebow, after becoming the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos football team, started to gain some attention with his rather unorthodox and lucky plays which he followed with celebratory prayer on his knee. This ritual was soon coined as the “Tebow”. Tebowing is now a meme, reaching more than just avid football fans. It even caused controversy, when a group of students were suspended for tebowing in their school hallways.
So what is Tebowing? To “Tebow”, according to the tumblr completely devoted to the meme, is ” to get down on a knee and start praying, even if everyone else around you is doing something completely different.” While the idea behind Tebowing is that of prayer, it is the act of praying amidst everyone else involved in other activities that the meme encompasses. In this way it is more of a behavioral meme. The Tebow is now a popular pose for photographs, especially those obligatory landmark photos from vacations abroad. More recently, it has become a favorite for wedding photo shoots.
But why did Tebowing spread? What is its appeal? Its connection to a young football star might be enough for some people to imitate. The open expression of faith might appeal to the religious that feel a need to publicly display their faith and giving of thanks to their God. Still, even those who are not devout Christians seem to have jumped onto the Tebow train. It could be the appeal of acknowledging one’s own accomplishments or simply rejoicing in a moment of good tidings. Either way it is an expression of glory, one that any of the numerous internet photos seem to suggest, that is picture perfect. As a pose that is. There is something intriguing (even for someone who finds the meme ridiculous) about the pose. And as Tim Tebow would kneel when he against all reason managed to get points on the board, it seems to represent accomplishment.
Tebowing could be considered as part of the larger memeplex of the Christian religion, as the act itself is of prayer. Other memes that have evolved from Christian prayer would be making the sign of the cross with one’s hands in front of his/her face and placing ones palms together in front of his/her face, or smearing ash on one’s forehead annually. As Oxford evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins explains in his foreword to The Meme Machine, “memes, selected against the background of each other, ‘cooperate’ in mutually supportive memeplexes – supportive within the memeplex but hostile to rival memeplexes.” In this way, Tebowing can work with and support other Christian memes either by providing another, public, outlet for the faith. However, it can also work against memes from other religious memeplexes as these might be overlooked or forgotten with the growing popularity of the tebow meme. Either way Tebowing, calls into question the role of religion in everyday life and how it should interact in a social sphere with so many religions. Tebowing is now a meme, one that might cause you to roll your eyes, but a meme nonetheless.
Memetics proves to be particularly interesting because it provides a framework to consider the evolution of human thoughts and ideas by comparing imitation to the replication of genes. It can be helpful to take this more concrete approach familiar in the research of gene replication when approaching the often times very abstract subject of human thought and its evolutions. Using models that most are already familiar with, such as viruses, makes it easier to understand the development and spread of memes. That being said, Dawkins and Blackmore at times seem to push the analogy a bit too much, weakening their arguments. This might be strengthened if some explanation for times when natural selection might not play a part in memetics.
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