You probably know your memes, right? You probably have an LOLCat at home. Or maybe you were the guy planking in that Tumblr blog? If you don't know what a "meme" is, basically, a fad. Richard Dawkins originally coined the term in his book, The Selfish Gene, saying that examples of memes might be "tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes, fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches" (192). Memes spread via human culture. They are ideas. Dawkins even went so far as to say that memes "parasitize" our brains, turning them into hosts that further spread the memes to others. James Gleick, author of “What Defines a Meme?” thinks it's important to separate the ideas from the person spreading the ideas: "The meme is not the dancer but the dance."
If a meme is a real, yet abstract, thing, then one could argue that memes are spreading and mutating more quickly via the internet than they ever have in the history of human culture. Just look at the rise of what some are calling "massive-scale online collaboration," a way that we are beginning to solve problems collectively, sometimes without even knowing it.
Read the following article and then discuss one or more of the questions below:
“What Defines a Meme?” by James Gleick in Smithsonian Magazine
What happens when memes go bad? Could we see racism as a kind of cruel meme? Some memes are obviously beneficial for humans, but others are probably not so good for us. Do you think there is a benefit to something like LOLCats spreading like wildfire? What about something like the Pepper Spraying Cop? Was/is that meme simply about making people laugh or is there a more political message underlying the photos?