Saturday, February 11, 2012

culture as reductio ad absurdum

A peek at Elisson's latest post, which examines the slew of "posing" memes to come our way-- planking, owling, cat-breading (as opposed to the more ancient cat-breeding), Lion King-ing, Tebowing, Bradying-- it occurs to me that, when people speak of "cultural acceleration," what they're really talking about is the rapid spiraling-into-absurdity that occurs when a given meme catches on in a technologized, incestuously communicative society. While I haven't done any serious analysis of the phenomenon (whose catchphrase should be, as it is on that phone commercial, "That's so four seconds ago!"), I think I can break it down into phases:

1. Cool Novelty: the meme makes its first appearance, and as with new jokes, no one's ever quite sure where the meme started.

2. Parody: almost immediately, sincerity and earnestness give way to the cynical pose as the second-wave "memers" perform the same actions, but with a wry twist. People with who lack either a sense of sarcasm or the ability to sense a fading trend continue in a Phase 1 vein, thereby producing a sort of cultural white noise in which The Earnest and The Cynical do the same thing, but for very different reasons. The Phase 2 memers are often commenting on the Phase 1 folks.

3. Absurdity: either through extreme over-repetition or through serious injury, the meme spirals upward to its in(s)ane culmination and the public begins to lose interest. By the following week, the meme is already a faded, fond memory.

What does this mean for Andy Warhol's claim that everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes? Have we effectively reduced that figure to fifteen seconds?


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