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December 17, 2003


The Dec 4th letter (confirmed as real by Snopes, btw) from a Army captain present at the Bush Thanksgiving visit is still making the rounds. One of my great uncles in California sent it out to the family list today.

That makes pretty damn pervasive for a meme--very little gets sent to that list that I haven't seen 8 or 9 times before. I wonder what kind of impact it will have on those who see it for the first time, especially as opposed to, say, a campaign commercial depicting essentially the same events.

Supposing that could be measured, we would be halfway to constructing a model for building a pervasive meme. I know of three off the top of my head that could be analyzed. The letter above, my French military history post, and something Laurence wrote after the WTC attack, though I cannot find a link for it at the moment.

From that small data pool, I'd theorize that the qualities so far include a ring of truth and strong emotional content of some sort. Both are hard to fake, but it could be done. I wouldn't be surprised if crafting Internet memes is as important to the 2012 elections as television commercials are to this years.

Update: Here's Laurence's post WTC meme

To those extremists that perpetrated this crime against our nation, I have a warning for you. There are those of us who look at your actions as irrational, twisted, and completely inhuman. By all measures, what you have done can only be seen as insane.

I have news for you. We're more fucking nuts than you, and it should scare you shitless.

You may think that when you die for your cause, you go to Paradise with 72 virgins, can leave reservations for 70 members of your family, all your sins are forgiven, and you sit at the side of Allah. Big deal. We had 39 guys who rented a Beverly Hills mansion, cut off their nuts, built a web site, and proceeded to poison themselves to death to hitch a ride with aliens out on the Hale-Bopp comet.

You shoot guns into the sky to celebrate victories over enemies, and people are killed by the bullets raining down on them. We not only do this for New Year's Eve in some cities, but we burn houses down, tear up streets, loot and sack our stores, and beat our selves senseless when our sports teams win championships. Sports teams!

Posted by Bigwig at December 17, 2003 01:43 PM | TrackBack
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I think there's also an element of spontaneous organization here, the reaching of a critical mass on an issue.

For example, when your French Military History piece circulated, I remember a lot of friends - die hard liberals included - saying things like, "Ah, jeez, the French... I can't believe them. But what do you expect." That was happening before you voiced it. But then when a left liberal friend (who is a Dem fundraiser) passed it to me in an email, I was amazed to see her write that it precisely mirrored her feelings about the French.

A quickly spreading meme seems to occur because it gives voice to an already held belief. "Yeah, he's saying what I think" is part of it.

I believe there's also a reaching of critical mass within a system - and the size of the system limits the distribution of the meme. For example, the idea that the Bush family got where it is by a long series of assassinations, mainly in airplane crashes, is prevalent on the hard left. It's complete BS, but the meme has spread pretty well amongs the DU'ers and the Buzzflash crowd. Yet it refuses to infect the general populace, no matter how many times Nutty Uncle Bob and your left liberal loony friend Carol circulate the email setting forth the narrative.

Josh Marshall's Plame-gate-is-as-big-as-Watergate-and-Bush-should-be-impeached meme is a good example. It spread exactly as far as the subset of people who think Bush oughtta be impeached anyhow, and nobody else really gave a shit in the long term.

If I was postulating a theory here, I'd put it thusly:

1. A meme spreads by articulating a widely held, but not well articulated sentiment.

2. A meme spreads only among the subset of persons for whom the meme has resonance.

2a. The subset need not be a majority of the public, but can be as small as the smallest subset of people who do not know each other directly.

3. No amount of effort can "generate" a meme; it occurs naturally when somebody voices a widely held sentiment that was not previously well articulated.

Posted by: Blackavar at December 17, 2003 09:44 PM
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