Friday, January 18, 2013

Keep calm and ...

This post, the first of an intended series regarding my perambulations around the internet, was started two weeks ago. Life has kept me just a little too busy to finish it, but I'm finally getting it done. To be honest, I'm not sure I remember my point - or if I even had one. And so, without further ado, here we go: Oh, wait. Did I ever note that I like the word 'ado'? No one uses it much anymore, not that they ever did. It's just not a part of the modern lexicon. Okay, got that out of my system. Let's start with a word that gets used a lot in inbred internet circles:

meme (noun) \ˈmēm\

1 : an idea, belief or belief system, or pattern of behavior that spreads throughout a culture either vertically by cultural inheritance (as by parents to children) or horizontally by cultural acquisition (as by peers, information media, and entertainment media) 

2 : a pervasive thought or thought pattern that replicates itself via cultural means; a parasitic code, a virus of the mind especially contagious to children and the impressionable 

(Etymology : meme : derived from the Greek mimëma, 'something imitated', by Richard Dawkins in 1976)

If you hang out in internet space with any regularity, you have probably encountered a "meme". When I first read the word itself, I thought it was pronounced "me me" - it was associated with the internet, after all. In reality, the word was coined by biologist and atheist rabble-rouser Richard Dawkins long before email was known to the general public, and almost 20 years before the system which became the internet was allowed to be used either commercially, or by everyday people. 

It is customary, around the turn of a new calendar year, to look back at the year which is passing into history to see what lessons we can learn about ourselves. For some reason or other, two things stand out to me as particularly representative of my experiences on the internet during 2012. Both are what have become known as "memes". Today's example is the now ubiquitous "Keep Calm..." World War Two poster:

It was one of a series of three posters prepared in 1939 by the government of Great Britain for distribution as morale builders during the earliest days of World War Two, but was never released.

It was rediscovered by a used bookstore owner in 2000. Until last year, only two copies were thought to have survived, but an additional cache of 12 has now turned up.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I used to manage bookstores for a living. I can easily get lost in a used bookstore. When I found that the poster turned up in one, I had to go digging. Here's a lovely little video which shows the store, and tells the story of the poster in just 3 minutes. 

In late 2011 and early 2012, the "Keep Calm" poster was discovered by the masses. It turned up on all kinds of merchandise from coffee mugs, sweatshirts, key-chains, and smart phone cases, to tote bags and wrapping paper. It also became a graphic meme, inspiring countless variations. I know it is silly of me, but I tend to collect such things. I come from a family of pack rats who saved anything which could ever possibly be reused - someday. Much of what they saved had to do with scarcities of the Depression as well as The War. Since I was a kid, I have saved (or at least tried to) items which reflect our pop culture (in truth, they were items of a culture that passed me by, and I simply never threw them out): 78 rpm records, 45rpm records, long playing records, CDs, books, movies on film, movies on video, movies on discs - well, you get the idea. This habit also requires a dedication to keeping technologically outmoded devices around. Moving used to be a bitch before a friend lent me a portion of her barn for storage. I still mourn the lost, misplaced, and left behind items like my 35mm movie projectors and my Sonoroa Gramophone (sort of a floor model Victrola). These days, I collect data files. Storage is on a hard drive. And thus it is that I now happily present a few (and probably too many) of the variations of the "Keep Calm" poster: