On Memes: the By-Products of Our Participatory Culture

“Meme” is one of those words I’ve long viewed skeptically.  It sounds egg-heady and vaguely French.  And I always have a nagging sense I’m pronouncing it wrong (it rhymes with ‘dream’).  Still, like Web 2.0, once I actually learned what it meant, it wasn’t particularly intimidating.  There’s a lot of egg-heady, vaguely Greek background information, but a meme basically amounts to to a self-replicating idea; think of it as copy-catting gone viral.  Or think of it as a very high percentage of what you like on YouTube.

Play Them Off, Keyboard Cat

Play Them Off, Keyboard Cat

Actually, don’t think about it too much; just enjoy this recent one; the play them off keyboard cat.  This is not a topic solely of interest to cat people.  Hardly.  This kimono-sporting feline does nothing more than move his paws over a synthesizer keyboard in an entirely unconvincing manner to a simple, ear-catching tune.  This is clearly not about the production value, which–aside from the well-tailored silk garb–is non-existent.  It’s about the idea; whenever someone or something produces a video FAIL (yet another meme), some amateur video editor takes that footage and intercuts this increasingly degrading clip into the situation at the end–literally playing him off ala Doc Severinsen on the old Tonight Show or Paul Shaffer on Letterman.  These video clips often takes on meta status as they add this keyboard cat meme onto already popular video clips like this, this, and my far and away favorite–this

When everyone can participate in the media, when technology makes it easy to make simple edits on a laptop, and when any video that captures the public attention can be forwarded with a few keystrokes, memes like the play-them-off-keyboard-cat will continually pop up like so many smile-inducing mayflies.  Perhaps dancing babies and grape stomp lady and where the hell is Matt? don’t add to the intellectual advancement of the culture, but they add undeniable fun to a Friday morning.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

JK Rowling? Seven Books. JK Rowling Fans? 74,996 Stories–And That’s Only Counting Three Websites…

Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City     

Quebec City’s Lovely Chateau Frontenac

Think about that for a moment…  In addition to the 300 million copies of her books, the five movies and DVD’s, the action figurescollector’s edition wands, costumes, boardgames, trading cards and the rest of the commemorative junk heap our pop culture creates for consumers to buy, Harry Potter fans so adore Joanne Kathleen Rowling’s stories and characters that they generate additional stories of their own…a LOT of them.  A mere three websites–here, here, and here–accounted for seventy-five thousand fan-generated stories about Harry, Hermione and the rest of the Hogwarts gang.  And that is far from a comprehensive number; it doesn’t begin to include fan-generated artwork, websites, videos or the other 3.37 million Google results returned for “Harry Potter Fan Fiction.”

Today’s technology empowers a participatory social culture.  If we want our clients’ brands to thrive in today’s 24/7, show and tell world, we need to create brand stories consumers not only relate to and enjoy, but also want to share and customize.  Just a few years ago, corporate lawyers would have pounced to squelch this type of activity; today smart brands try to foster its growth positively, and ideally profitably.

That’s where the magic lies.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79