I am often stopped on the street by people of a certain age who ask “Please, do you have any spare tires? If not, could you at least explain what is a meme?”
Talk about your teachable moments. I am asked this question so often that I now carry with me a portable podium, a foldout bleacher section, a small usher and a packet containing general liability release forms, a four-page evaluation tool and a guide to what will be on the final.
The term meme derives from a very short song sung to loosen the vocal chords. Known as “Me Me Me,” its wildly popular narcissism supplanted the old standards “Doh Doh Doh,” and “Ray Ray Ray.”¹
Now, in pre-internet days, people learned lyrics to songs like “Me Me Me” through sheet music. (The term was corrupted by bitter critics at the dawn of rock and roll as well as the rap, punk and hip hop pandemics into “You call that sheet music?”)
But early sheet music contained a typo, changing “Me Me Me” to “MeMeMe.” People were confused, so a committee of experts decided one of the me’s had to go. Unfortunately, it was me. Soon after, one of the first modern memes sprang forth: “Me meme, you meme we all meme for ice crememe.”
Memes go way back. In early Greece, the standard greeting meme was “How’s your potato, Plato?” In Shakespeare’s time, losers heard “Sorry Hamlet, it just wasn’t meant to be.”2 In the Old West the favored cowboy-meets-Indian meme was “What up prairie dog?”
In the fifties a goateed hipster would say “Slip me some skin, Daddy-O.” In the sixties it was the enigmatic “Oh wow, man.” By the 2000s, we were hearing “Dood!” and “Homes!” (or the less formal “Homey”) At jobsites today you hear the annual-review-meme “While not our biggest asset, you’re certainly our biggest asshat.”
Don’t ask me why3, but baby boomers became known as the meme generation. Rogue, offshore copy editors abbreviated it to “the me generation.” This killed off a comeback staged by the once powerful Ray Ray Ray lobby — which had already copyrighted “Ray generation,” and had distributed press kits with photos of important Rays including Link Wray and the Ray Men, Ray, North Dakota, and Ray the Flying Squirrel.
My least favorite meme begins “Unless you’ve been living in a cave, or on Mars, or under a rock, or in the deli case next to the German Potato salad…” It then proceeds to say something that supposedly everyone already knows.
For instance, in 1653 in England,4 someone might have said “unless you’ve been living in a nunnery or under the tower of London, you know that the Rump Parliament has been criticized by Oliver Cromwell for making rump-like noises…”
What I’ve never liked about this particular meme is that sometimes I have been living under a rock and may have missed one or two big-whoop, social rump bites.
So? There’s no law against living in a cave on Mars—Matt Damon did it and you didn’t hear Oliver Cromwell bad mouthing him. Chill, people. As the late jingle writer Leon Carr5 once memed “Sometimes you feel like a nut; sometimes you don’t.”
1. Officially “Doe(a deer)” and “Ray (Bans).” Other notes never caught on. For example, “Fa” sounds too much like a Boston Brahmin estimating the distance between Worcester and New Haven. “So” was already linked by tabloids to “What.” Smog worked against “La” and “Ti” just wanted to party and/or ruin Congress.
2. Get it? To be? Eh?
3. What part of don’t don’t you understand? (No, it’s not a contraction for donut.)
4. I kid thee not. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rump_Parliament
©Patrick A. McGuire and A Hint of Light 2013-2016, all rights reserved.