The Repeated Meme and the Echo Chamber
– by David Matthews 2
In the satirical animated series “Family Guy”, shrill housewife Lois Griffin decides to run for mayor. During her first (and only) debate, she finds that the audience doesn’t respond to complicated explanations of how one would be a better steward of the public trust. Instead, they start cheering when she uses quick sound bites, including a lot of references to “9/11”. Eventually she just answers everything with “9/11”.
I can’t help but have that image come up when it came to the so-called “Tea Party Convention” this past weekend in Tennessee, especially given its keynote speaker, the former governor of Alaska.
I’m sorry, but I’m not one that buys into political hype on first blush. And the more someone says that a candidate or a speaker is the most wonderful person on the world without any concrete reason why, the more I will conclude that the acolyte is full of something that comes out of the OTHER end of the bull.
Even worse is when you ASK them to give a specific reason why they think this person is so great and they can’t! They just regurgitate talking points.
I’ve never been a fan of President Barack Obama, but at least I can understand why his supporters love him. He is intelligent, well-spoken, and he carries himself as a leader. I may not like his policies, I may not like how he governs, but at least I can SEE where the adulation of his supporters is warranted.
I CANNOT, however, see that in either Sarah Palin or the Tea Party crowd, and yet they were made for each other. The best way to describe them is to think of them as a repeated meme inside an echo chamber.
A meme, for those who do not know, is an idea. It’s a postulated unit of cultural ideas, symbols, or practices. The Internet is FULL of memes. Cute videos about keyboard cats and dancing babies, emoticons, acronyms, chain-mail messages, brain-twisters, and Photoshopped images. And about 99% of it is recycled and regurgitated from other people. Someone picks it up and passes it on to their friends, and then they do the same, and so on and so forth. It has no real value to it, and in fact the people who actually came up with most of these memes will never get the credit for their creations, never mind see a penny for their work.
A repeated meme, therefore, is nothing more than the repeating of someone else’s ideas. Take all the sound bites and conservative/neo-conservative chain mail messages, talking point memos, jargons, jingles, buzzwords, put them all together and you too can be either a FoxNews media personality, or the perfect running mate for a presidential candidate in desperate need of job security.
If you think about it… and I know that the word “think” is an obscenity to the conservatives and neo-conservatives… Sarah Palin would have guaranteed job security for John McCain, had he won, in the same way that Dan Quayle did for George H.W. Bush. Nobody was going to do anything to unseat the president knowing full well who would replace him. Quayle was a political meme, just like Palin is today.
But let’s get brutally honest here… one should not confuse a meme with actual leadership. All the Jiffy-Pop talking points and sound bites dressed up in red-white-and-blue and presented by a former beauty pageant contestant coming out of a late-night Cinemax movie doesn’t make the presenter a credible leader. It just means that the presenter a well-trained featherless parrot. Pleasing to the eye, certainly, but a parrot nonetheless.
Likewise, a mutual revulsion society using Obama as the symbol of everything that they hate neither addresses the problems we face today, or the reality that their own champions had more than just a passive hand in CREATING those problems. In fact all this over-hyped pseudo-independent echo chamber seemed to be was nothing more than a way to get support for the GOP in the same way that Scott Brown was elected to the US Senate in Massachusetts… by pretending to NOT be with the GOP.
In truth, the “Tea Party” people are nothing more than a group of fragmented special interests living in continual denial about the world around them. They don’t like what their “icons” and “champions” did in their name, but they don’t want to admit it happened. Even when the problem is staring at them square in the face, they don’t want to take ownership of their actions.
Sadly, this kind of sentiment is nothing new. In fact all you have to do is go back in history and see the “tea party” mentality as the group that served as the limited substitute for one dying political party before being replaced by another political party. The party they replaced were the Whigs… the party that replaced them, ironically enough, was the ORIGINAL Republican Party. The members of this limited substitute movement called themselves the “Know Nothings”.
But at least THEY were honest about themselves, unlike today’s bunch of “admit nothings”.