stop the press! memes on tv!

From: Vincent Campbell (
Date: Mon 20 Jun 2005 - 10:13:16 GMT

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    Hi Everyone,

    Just wondered if anyone else caught a relatively lengthy discussion of memes on TV last night?

    It was on (the UK's) Channel 4's Big Brother Sunday night show (yes, I watch it- hey I'm a Media Studies lecturer, for me it's work!).

    Anyway, on the Sunday show of the UK version of Big Brother they normally wheel out some psychologists to talk about micro-gestures, unconscious body language, or patterns of behaviour (how much people self-groom, hug others etc. etc.). Last night one of the psychologists (criminally I forget their name as I type) started talking about memes.

    Basically they described memes as units of cultural behaviour, and in the context of the Big Brother house, this person highlighted how the phrase 'at the end of the day' had been used by every housemate, and used more than 200 times so far (they've just entered week 4). They showed how one housemate had used the phrase within an hour of going in the house, and then noted how, within the closed world of the dozen or so people in the house, this had become a stock phrase, used to denote a closing/definitive comment.

    They contrasted it with idiosyncratic phrases of some of the housemates (one stereotypical Londonder inthe house uses lots of typical London idioms like
    'Fuck About!') that have not become common parlance in the group. Then they highlighted another phrase- a meme for this particular analyst- which was
    'dog eat dog', again showing several housemates using the phrase, and, typically for the British version of Big Brother, ending the sequence with an amusing dig at one of the thicker contestants saying 'At the end of the day, it's dog eat dog in here'.

    Just as for the micro-gesture and body language specialists, the Big Brother house is a great laboratory for memeticists is the sense that everything is captured, so tracing the route of a comment or phrase form its origins across the group can actually be done very precisely.

    It occurs to me that with each year of Big Brother I've watched there have been stock phrases each group have come up with (I think in the first or second year, when they were nominating they came up with a little song to take the tension out of it, and last year one woman's tendency to use the word 'chicken' as a term of affection ended up being used by a lot of the group).

    So, there you go Reality TV as raw data for memeticists? Food for thought perhaps.


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