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Spreading your memes: Cats and The Beatles

In my prior meme post, I purposefully littered my post (so to speak) with cat meme references, including a cat meme image and a cat meme video. I wanted to test a theory. I recently read a blog post by a blogger/writer who said that posting cat memes and videos was essential for pulling in blog traffic, regardless of the nature of your blog. She monitored her blog traffic closely and found a significant spike in hits for each blog post that included a cat-themed meme.

Her advice: stick cat memes in your blog posts, regardless of whether it ties in with anything.

The results for my blog post? No significant spike in traffic. Maybe the algorithms are already aware of the gimmick.

Some might lament this as a sign of “cultural decay.” The naysayers aren’t wrong, although personally I find it all more than a little hilarious. From a big-picture perspective, however, there’s something I find instructive. Cat memes simply illustrate that at a given point in time there are certain memes that resonate with a larger number of people, which is sort of something you might expect. Or maybe not — but either way, let’s talk about the Beatles.

Listening to the Beatles is easy, for all of us. The key word is accessible. The Beatles are accessible, their music is something a large number of us can easily get down with. It’s great music but easy for a large number of people to understand and groove to. The Beatles are pop music at its finest, true genius on more than one level.

John Coltrane was also a genius, and was operating at about the same time as the boys from Liverpool, but Coltrane’s music, by contrast, is sort of an acquired taste. Coltrane isn’t accessible, not in the same way as The Beatles. That’s no strike against Coltrane, he’s one of my faves, and I’ve been listening to him since I was a teenager, but not everyone “gets” Coltrane. This doesn’t elevate me into a man of fine taste so much as it illustrates that some forms of music are popular while other forms have a more narrow and selective appeal.

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This brings us back to memes. The reason we ought to post cat memes is that, like The Beatles, cat memes appeal across a broad spectrum, they’re accessible.

Memes change culture, and culture is always changing, but at a given time a culture might be more influenced by a particular form of meme transmission: a culture might be more visually oriented, might be more or less educated, etc. Right now, cat memes work.

It’s a form of survival of the fittest. Memes, analogous to genes, vary in their aptitude to replicate; successful memes remain and spread, whereas unfit ones stall and are forgotten. Thus memes that prove more effective at replicating and surviving are selected in the meme pool.

Or at least that’s how the theory goes.

Beatles

 

…memes that are familiar have a better chance of being assimilated yet will likely have less impact in terms of changing the culture…

For writers and artists and thinkers, there’s a tension: memes that are farther outside our cultural comfort zone might have greater power to push the culture into a progressive direction, but they have an uphill battle toward acceptance — they possess a greater potential for changing the paradigm but have a harder time catching on. By contrast, memes that are familiar have a better chance of being assimilated yet will likely have less impact in terms of changing the culture.

Breaking new ground is more difficult than replicating a familiar formula. The Beatles, I’d say, seem to have done both. (Ditto for Dylan.) They seemed to have developed something that was artistically new but that at the same time had immediate appeal. The masses just got it, effortlessly. That seems to be quite rare, however.

Reagan Make America Great Again

The current culture seems to be ripe for something new, with the breakdown of our institutions and the failure of conventional ideas. Even so, cultural change isn’t guaranteed. Just because everyone wants change and feels the need for change doesn’t mean that things will change. It’s ironic but true. Change is scary, so at the end of the day if you feel threatened by the direction that things are going, you’ll be more likely to entrench and defend something familiar.

The 2016 election seems to be a prime illustration of this. On top of everything, Trump bought the rights to “Make America Great Again,” used by Reagan decades earlier. It was a staggering feat of un-originality, but it was a familiar formula, something that appealed to the narrative that Reagan himself had popularized.

The culture seems ripe for new forms of creativity, but it’s also a highly competitive field. Which memes will carry the day? Which ideas will capture our collective imagination? Which movements will gain momentum?  Will new forms of popular artistic expression emerge?

We’ll see. Time will tell.

I love Coltrane, but I’ve always been a Beatles fan, too.

Bob Dylan Outlaw

This entry was posted in: Stories & Life

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Writer. In the summers, I live and work in the incredible state of Alaska, in the bush community of McCarthy; I pass the winters in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. I'm working on a memoir-based nonfiction book on the American Dream. I blog, quite frequently, and I also have a novel in process, set in Alaska.

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