Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Pyramid memes

As a writer/editor who has kept his ink-stained fingers on the pulse of the Net since 1994, I've seen the word "meme" grow from Richard Dawkins's original coinage to online phenomenon to a toy.

Dawkins considers gene to be self-replicating units of information. Genes use living creatures to live on - we're all just fancy bags that ensure the genes' survival. Many thinkers have extended this philosophy to cultural ideas, but Dawkins coined "meme" to represent these ideas. The memes also pass through us, but through our culture rather than our bodies. Strong ones live on and mutate, weak ones die off.

With the advent of near-instantaneous global communication came relatively instantaneous transmission of memes. In the online world, netsurfers came to use "memes" to refer to online fads, often particular files. Perhaps the most famous of these is the "All Your Base" video and its driving techno beat. Here's what I wrote in Netsurfer Digest 7.05 (Feb. 23, 2001):

All Your Base Are Belong to Us!

Every so often, some insubstantial piece of online fluff catches on and spreads through bulletin boards and e-mail lists like nerdy wildfire. Usually, the best we can do is tell you, "Hey, there's this nifty insubstantial piece of online fluff that has caught on and spread like nerdy wildfire." Such items are rarely understandable yet contagious - the perfect example is Mahir Cagri's "I kiss you" page. One of the latest such contagions is "All Your Base", a Flash movie based on an old arcade game called Zero Wing, famed for its Japlish subtitles. Take those subtitles, insert them into everyday situations like some kind of conspiracy, and add a techno beat so catchy it could easily get you dancing at your local club, and you get this. But that's not all. "All Your Base" has a history that we've rooted out. The concept started last summer with a Wayne Newtony parody of the game's intro screens and developed in a thread (which we can't reach) at Tribal War Forums that inspired still photos. These stills were then incorporated in a non-Wayne Newtony "All Your Base" techno version. There's also a FAQ on the game. Somebody's got to release that song as a dance mix....
All Your Base: http://www.thefever.com/AYB2.swf
Start: http://www.overclocked.org/OCzerowing.htm
Stills: http://www.planetstarseige.com/allyourbase/index.html
Game FAQ: http://www.gamefaqs.com/console/genesis/file/zero_wing.txt

(Not all of those links still work.)

Anyway.... Usage of "meme" has expanded to include the concept of a pyramid-scheme-like game of tag. One blogger will set up a suite of questions, dares others - "tags them" is the jargon - to answer the same questions, and this so-called meme is afoot.

Fun Joel (see blogroll) started one of these a few days ago. Shawn at Agents Are Evil (look for it in a blogroll near me soon) was in the fourth generation of this chain, which at three tags per person is - let's see, 1 + 3 + 9 + 27... - oh, let's say about 50 possible participants already. Who am I to buck the trend?

ONE (1) earliest film-related memory:
Seeing "Fantasia" in the theatre during what must have been the 1969 re-release. I hid under the seat during the terrifying sequence set to Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain". I was three years old.

TWO (2) favorite lines from movies:
Two that I can recall without having to look them up:
"Her insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase." - "Raising Arizona"
"You're a funny man, Solly. I like you. That's why I'm going to kill you last." - "Commando"
I have no idea why I like that Schwarzenegger line, but I love the movie. Maybe because of this later exchange:
Matrix : Remember, Sully, when I promised to kill you last?
Sully : That's right, Matrix. You did.
Matrix : I lied.

THREE (3) jobs you'd do if you could not work in the "biz":
Freelance journalist (duh)
House dad

FOUR (4) jobs you actually have held outside the industry:
University lecturer

THREE (3) book authors I like:
Kurt Vonnegut
Stephen Jay Gould
Jared Diamond

TWO (2) movies you'd like to remake or properties you'd like to adapt:
Vonnegut's "Bluebeard"
I always thought "Fatherland" by Robert Harris would make a great movie, and then I learned it was one.

ONE (1) screenwriter you think is underrated:
M. Night Shyamalan. People drag his name through the mud for the dumb stuff like "Signs" and "The Village", but "The Sixth Sense" is the best screenplay I've ever read.

THREE (3) people I'm tagging to answer this meme next:
With sincere apologies, I will tag Alex, Konrad, and Josh, because he could use a reason to make teh funny.


Blogger Fun Joel said...

Actually, I started it less than 24 hours ago, and am about to post a follow-up. To the best of my knowledge, it looks like you are the first Gen 4 person (after me as Gen 0) to respond!

January 10, 2006 3:16 PM  
Blogger MaryAn Batchellor said...

Great post.

January 11, 2006 12:49 PM  
Blogger taZ said...

M. Night Shyamalan indeed!

Am I the only one that kind of liked signs and the village?

January 11, 2006 1:35 PM  
Anonymous Maya said...


Shyamalan has awesome stuff, but I find his twists a little predictable when taken in large doses.

("WHAT A TWIST!" skit is a good example of how I feel about Shyamalan - check it out, episode 12.)

as for Arnie's Commando quote, hell yes. Still my favourite. That or Running Man's "hey, what happened to buzzsaw?" "He had to split."

mmm...meme mutations.

all hail the hypnotoad.


January 13, 2006 2:00 PM  

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