Re: Memetics on Dutch TV this weekend!

Aaron Lynch (
Thu, 23 Apr 1998 11:57:29 -0500

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Date: Thu, 23 Apr 1998 11:57:29 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: Memetics on Dutch TV this weekend!
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Thanks, Hans-Cees.

The program also contacted me about this by email. My reply took an
American's perspective, so it will be interesting to see Sue's analysis. I
append a copy of my correspondence with Jacqueline de Vree of vpro Dutch
Public Television. Perhaps she found some of this material useful even if
putting me on Dutch tv was impractical...

Date: Thu, 12 Feb 1998 05:35:15 -0500
To: Jacqueline de Vree <>
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: meme's, myths and collective behavior

Thank you, Jacqueline.

Very interesting questions.

Princess Diana tapped into a variety of memes that already existed in the
population. Some of these memes involve social class systems, which evolve
and become quite strong even without a monarchy. (I discuss some of this in
chapter 2 of my book.) Class is about more than just money, as it gives
higher standing to those with "old money" than those with "new money."
Diana was born at a very high rank, and married into even higher status in
a family with some of the oldest money in the world.

Some of Diana's popularity also came from her youth and beauty, also widely

But Diana tapped into a strong and ancient meme from the Christianity when
she focused her life's work on charity. The idea of Christian love is very
widespread and powerful, even among many people who do not practice the
faith. Purely secular motives exist for persuading others to be generous
too, which also helps pro-charity memes to spread. Still, this is not
enough to explain why Diana's death was bigger news than Mother Theresa's

To understand the meme transmissions that made Diana a "higher saint" than
Mother Theresa, you must consider HOW Diana performed her charity work. She
did it by raising money from extremely wealthy people that the general
population already saw as "gods." During such charity events, people would
pay large sums of money to be in the same room with Diana. People who were
already seen as "gods" were thus persuaded to effectively transmit the idea
that Diana is higher than the "gods." If diana had only done ordinary
volunteer work or only donated family money, then she would not have caused
this impicity idea transmission.

As Diana went from princess to goddess in the public eyes, the number of
extremely rich and famous people who would pay to attend her charity events
was increased, and this elevated her status further in a self-reinforcing

A further point concerns the immense popularity Diana achieved by playing
the fairy tale role of the "royal commoner." The proof of her royalty to
the masses was of course her marriage into the royal family. But the
frailties that the media have analyzed as "every woman" problems are in
fact seen as serious maladjustments by most: bulimia and suicide attempts.
Most women still see these problems as extreme even in failing marriages to
philandering husbands. Yet these extreme problems served to convey another
implicit idea to the public: Diana was almost mortally stifled by life in
the royal family. This was perhaps the strongest proof that she was really
a commoner at heart, a point that she could never have expressed credibly
by just saying so in words. Her troubles with royalty also implicitly told
the commoner that their way of life really is better and healthier, an
enormously popular tacit message. Moreover, as living proof that there is a
royal commoner, she awakened a bit of the "royal commoner" fairy tale dream
so widespread in the general public. Implied idea transmissions thus played
a huge part in making Diana as popular as she was.

The myth of goddess Diana did serve a function, namely to elicit charitable
giving from wealthy people who might otherwise have kept the money to
themselves. For many, (probably most), buying a seat at one of her charity
events was a social climbing "investment," because it lead to public
coverage of someone's contact with an individual of such high status. The
royal commoner myth served a function in elevating people’s self esteem.

Best regards,

--Aaron Lynch

>Dear mr. Lynch,
>allow me to introduce myself - I'm a researcher working for a science
program on Dutch Public Television. Our program is a 25 minute
documentary, and it is broadcasted weekly. Currently, we are investigating
if we can make a program on collective behaviour, collective emotions and
mass hysteria.
>Our starting point for this were the worldwide reactions on the death of
>prinses Diana, a couple of months ago, and from there on we start
wondering whether there are some good scientific explanations on the mass
behavior and the formation of the myth around her personality. Why do
people _do_ that kind of things? Why are people so vulnerable to the
emotions of their fellow-human beings? Is it a typical human behavior, or
do, lets say primates exhibit the same kind of behavior? What is the
function of myths, for a modern society?
>I'm quite curious as to what your opinions are on these topics. What
>would your theory of memes contribute to a better understanding of these
>I hope you will find the time to answer some of my questions - if you
>prefer talking by phone, please let me know the number by which I can
reach you, and the best time of day to contact you.
>Kind regards, Jacqueline de Vree

--Aaron Lynch

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