Water on the Brain
One night in December 2007, I was hanging out with two of my friends and we were bored. On television two news pundits were debating whether or not the act of waterboarding was torture. They kept mentioning it was easy to do so I searched for directions on the Internet. Half an hour later I was getting waterboarded in the desert. One of my friends poured the water over me while another videotaped the event. Afterwards, I posted I Waterboarded Myself on YouTube and the video went viral (Larroque, 2007). I was shocked that so many people watched it and I’ve been wondering ever since what made the minute and a half film so popular. I suspect that I stumbled on the Waterboarding meme.
What’s a meme? One might think of them as infectious bits and pieces of culture that spread information from one group to another. So called “viral marketers” often believe that the videos they produce will get a million hits based on a formula. The strategy is designed around how to spread content, regardless of that content’s character (Greenberg, 2007). In their view, memes can be parasites and humans are just passive carriers.
In contrast, scholars believe that memes aren’t the viruses, but ideas appropriated by individuals to promote their own self-expression. Memes don’t self-replicate in a cookie cutter fashion, but are remixed to take on new contexts each time that they are shared (Jenkins, 2009). Who controls whom? Do memes control humans or do humans control memes? What are the conditions that facilitate the spread of memes? Do their carriers adopt them passively or actively?