Monday, December 19, 2016

 

A meme is born

A meme is born

At first, the story spread because no one had captured anything this real, this horrific on a home video before. Someone just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and with a camera in hand. But the reason for the full-scale rioting in Los Angeles that followed went deeper than grotesque novelty. It was because, as a culture, we still had many unresolved and unexpressed issues regarding race relations, urban conditions, and police brutality. (We still do, which is why Facebook live footage of black lives not mattering still provokes such widespread response.) The important thing to get here is that a media virus spreads because of the way it interacts with its environment, not solely because of some unique trait within itself.

The extent to which we are infected by Donald Trump says less about him than it does about our immune response as a society.

A real, biological virus works the same way. A sticky protein shell very much like the protein in our own bodies is wrapped around genetic material. Unable to recognize the shell as an invader, we allow it to attach to our own cells and inject its DNA inside. The DNA then interpolates with our own DNA, looking for weak spots to nest and then order the cell to reproduce. All the virus really means to say is “Make me!” It doesn’t care which parts of the genetic code it’s challenging, so long as it gets spread and replicated.

For the Rodney King virus, the sticky shell was its novel media format: a camcorder tape. That’s what fascinated the media; media welcomes stories about media, the same way that a protein-based organism welcomes protein-wrapped invaders. The code within the Rodney King virus – the race-based violence – was what our culture found so challenging. That’s why it provoked the prolonged response and cathartic rioting.

Marketers loved the concept of a media virus, and latched onto the most superficial ways of understanding it. It finally gave them a way of understanding how messages spread in an interactive media space. They saw it as a digital form of word-of-mouth advertising, and tried to craft commercials that would “go viral,” which to them simply meant something that one internet user might pass on to another one. Their mistake, however, was in thinking that the subject of the virus — the cookie, or pop star, or cat — was the thing people cared about. As if a virus spreads because of some intrinsic quality in the virus. That’s not what happens. The virus spreads because of an intrinsic, latent quality in the culture. Both biological and media viruses say less about themselves than they do about their hosts.

That’s why the extent to which we are infected by Donald Trump says less about him than it does about our immune response as a society. A virus doesn’t make us sick unless we lack an immune system capable of recognizing the shell and then neutralizing the code. Until we do that, the virus replicates, and our immune system goes berzerk, giving us the fever, chills, congestion, or vomiting — which manifest in culture as media confusion, protests in the street, sleepless nights, and Twitter wars.

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Respect for the truth is almost the basis of all morality.
Nothing can come from nothing.



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