Yesterday evening, as I browsed Facebook and Twitter, I became aware of, and then part of, something strange. I had already heard something about Clint Eastwood’s debate with an empty chair at the US Republican convention on Thursday, which struck me as an odd thing to do, but living on the other side of the Atlantic, had not yet had a chance to watch it. When I did, I was initially saddened to see that one of my all-time favourite Hollywood tough guys might have overestimated his talent for comic oratory, although if better informed (or scripted) and perhaps twenty years younger, I’d like to think he might still have pulled it off.
Then I received a tweet asking, Is Eastwooding the Next Planking Internet Meme? linking to a number of photos of people apparently conversing with empty chairs. At this point a number of thoughts went through my mind:
- I remember my teenage daughter trying to explain Planking to me, but not really getting it.
- Is this really an equivalent Internet meme in the making? That’s kind of exciting.
- Some of these photos are actually pretty funny – at least in a quirky American kind of way 🙂
- Maybe I should retweet this.
- Maybe I should create my own Eastwooding photo and post that too.
According to VentureBeat, the Twitter profile @InvisibleObama went from 0 to 20,000 followers in just 40 minutes. Twelve hours later, it had 50,000, soon after which the account was suspended, presumably because Twitter was having a hard time keep pace with the rush of new traffic generated. While the creator of this profile remains anonymous, he/she did give an amusing interview here.
Leaving aside the debate as to whether memes can really exist in any sense other than the abstract, Wikipedia describes the term as follows
A meme ( /ˈmiːm/; meem) is “an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective pressures.
Maybe such ultimately selfish motivations are what drive all memes, or at least the more loosely defined Internet Memes, but unless Eastwooding persists for a number of years and mutates into other more infectious forms, I personally think it would be better described as a passing fad rather than a meme.