Meme’s the word

Greg HornsbyGeraldton Guardian

You probably know memes as those pictures with funny but meaningful comments that circulate around the internet.

They pop up on Facebook, blogs, Instagram, forums and social news sites. You can make them yourself and share them.

But memes are not all fun and games, some people take them very seriously. A meme in its broadest sense is any idea, behaviour or style that spreads from one person to another in a culture.

It is a unit of cultural meaning that transmits in many ways including writing, speech, gestures, rituals, art and music.

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Older readers might remember the meme, “Kilroy was here” that was popular from the 1940s.

This graffiti-based meme started with James F. Kilroy who was a shipyard inspector at the beginning of World War II. After inspecting a new ship he would write, “Kilroy was here” on the bulkhead to show that it had been inspected.

Marines who used the ships later had no idea who Kilroy was and he came to mean a super GI who was always there before everyone else.

They started writing “Kilroy was here” wherever they went and it just kept spreading.

The word meme was coined by evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene. It comes from the Greek word mimema, meaning something which is copied or imitated.

Dawkins used the word meme to relate cultural transmission to the way that genes with all their genetic information are transmitted through a population.

The advent of information and communication technology has changed the way cultural information is spread. Firstly, it has made it possible for almost anyone to contribute to culture through internet memes and other ways.

Secondly, because of the internet, the speed of that transmission is much faster. We can literally create overnight sensations.

Thirdly, units of cultural meaning like memes can spread around the whole globe.

A global culture is now developing that is starting to blend all previously separate cultures.

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