In Defense of Memes…

I guess the best place to begin a defense is at the beginning.  I create graphic images using Photoshop.  I’m only a beginning photoshop amateur and being retired I spend a portion of my day learning to use the software.  I duplicate some  of the skills so I can recall the navigation, the appropriate tool, when to use and how to use the tool.  I then post to some of the Face Book Groups I’m a member of.  One day recently I learned a new set of Photoshop skills that I was honing.  I created about 5 images using the set of skills and I posted to the groups.  It wasn’t long before I irritated someone with the images and a comment on one group requested I stop posting memes.  I didn’t respond because I’ve been banned from a few groups because of responding to comments,  you know defending myself with too passionate a defense.  But I did think about memes and began some research on the subject.

So, I thought a defense of memes was the best response I could give, and post on my Word Press site instead of the Facebook group page.

The first graphic I did was a chalk board effect.


The second was the same chalk board with a different color “Chalk…”


It took me from 40 minutes to an hour to finish each.

I then thought about different backgrounds.


The technique is the same as the chalk with slight changes… this is to simulate spray paint and I also inserted a transparent image… the only problem with the technique is making changes and editing is difficult to do.

I posted all to the Face Book group with no text to describe or explain with additional messaging.

I posted this image and received a comment from a fellow group member…


[And as a matter of full disclosure i also posted this image that I screen captured from another group.  I found it very funny and I simply had to share.]




… requesting that I stop posting MEMES and write something in my own words.  I really didn’t consider what I’m doing is a meme… and what is a meme and why the hostility toward me for  posting an image that I spent some time creating and actually enjoy looking at?  So instead of lashing out with an angry response I waited until I had more information about memes…

“Why the animosity for the graphics?” I asked myself.  What is a meme and why associate the graphic with the genre of images and graphics referred to as meme?

The first step to unravel the essence of a meme is Google… and the following is what I found…

A brief history of the word is a good place to start.  The word was brought into the lexicon in a book written by  Richard Dawkins titled The Selfish Gene.

The book also coins the term meme for a unit of human cultural evolution analogous to the gene, suggesting that such “selfish” replication may also model human culture, in a different sense. Memetics has become the subject of many studies since the publication of the book. In raising awareness of the ideas of W. D. Hamilton, as well as making its own valuable contributions to the field, the book has also stimulated research on human inclusive fitness.[1]


The word meme is a shortening (modeled on gene) of mimeme (from Ancient Greek μίμημα pronounced [míːmɛːma] mīmēma, “imitated thing”, from μιμεῖσθαιmimeisthai, “to imitate”, from μῖμος mimos, “mime”)[13] coined by British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene (1976)[3][14] as a concept for discussion of evolutionary principles in explaining the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena.


But, what does any of this have to do with my graphics being “MEMES…?  And who is Richard Dawkins?

I’ll answer the second question first.  Richard Dawkins is simply a biologist and author.  In his book The Selfish Gene, he explains his view of evolution and uses the word MEME for the first time.  In the sense that Dawkins uses the word, the meaning of the word is:

A meme (/ˈmm/ MEEM) is an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.[1] A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures.[2]

The word is a neologism coined by Richard Dawkins.[3]

Another layer to the word… so what is a neologism?

A neologism (/nˈɒləɪzəm/; from Greek νέο- néo-, “new” and λόγος lógos, “speech, utterance”) is a relatively recent or isolated term, word, or phrase that may be in the process of entering common use,

So what is the connection with the word MEME as used by Dawkins and the word MEME that the critic in the Face Book group was so angry about and associated with my graphic?

If you  look at the definition of both the answer may be a little clearer…

The definition as used by Dawkins is:

A meme (/ˈmm/ MEEM) is an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.[1] A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme.

An Internet meme (/miːm/ MEEM) is:

an activity, concept, catchphrase or piece of media which spreads, often as mimicry or for humorous purposes, from person to person via the Internet.

What is common between the two meanings of the word MEME?  Well, both spread, both are mimicked, both are ideas, symbols that are transmitted from one mind to another using a vehicle of some sort, writing, symbols, images, etc…

I don’t know much about either.  A biology, evolution meme or an internet meme or when this association blended from one to the other.  And when the blending occurred.  Or why someone would be critical of another person who uses a meme to communicate a message.  It’s simple.  An idea with an image… a photograph is worth a thousand words… but some people go ballistic….

Reading the critical comment I was reminded of something I read on VOX.  A short story and a video.  The story was about white canvas art…. and the reaction to a canvas of white paint…the reaction to a painting of white paint is similar to the reaction of the person who commented on my “meme” in the FACE BOOK Group.

Read and watch the video on VOX

And in my search I uncovered this interesting video that might help in defining a meme.

I see the similarities between the usages of the word meme to describe two different activities.  But when and how did someone switch the usage of the word meme to an internet activity?  I was able to identify Richard Dawkins as the person who coined the word in 1976 but who coined the usage of the word in it’s current form?

Here is an interesting story on the meme.  I didn’t use in the story but thought I would include for further reading…

And one other thing of interest.  While researching the word meme I’m reading a short work titled ON Tyranny by Timothy Snyder.  He has 20 points that identify a path to tyranny.  Number 3 is “Beware the one-party state.”  He uses the phrase “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” but makes a point not to attribute to Thomas Jefferson as has been done by some authorities.  Snyder attributes to the American Abolitionist and liberal activist Wendell Phillips on January 28, 1852.  But as I read further, there is similar usage of the phrase attributed to Jefferson and earlier attributions to many other people.  The linked story ends with this paragraph:

Many witty variations on this old saying have been created since then. My personal favorite is by the novelist Aldous Huxley. In an  introduction to the 1965 radio version of his novel Brave New World, Huxley said: “Eternal vigilance is not only the price of liberty; eternal vigilance is the price of human decency.”

A phrase that fits the definition of a meme that goes back as early as 1832.

It’s interesting to me that one activity can assimilate the meaning of another activity.  Someone familiar with Richard Dawkins and his work.  Someone who read Dawkins’ book and spotted the similarity between the “evolutionary gene meme” used by Dawkins and the infancy of the internet and the word meme.




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