Re: Death and Diana

Paul Marsden (
Sat, 25 Apr 1998 18:03:33 +0100

From: "Paul Marsden" <>
To: <>
Subject: Re: Death and Diana
Date: Sat, 25 Apr 1998 18:03:33 +0100

To be added to thread on Blackmore on Diana

Diana and the Crash Contagion

Last November there was a conference at the University of Sussex entitled
Death and Diana, where I gave a paper on a memetic interpretation of the
event. I offered the paper to the JOM for publication, but it was not
thought suitable, given its introductory nature (intended for social
psychologists and not memeticists.) If anyone wants a copy on Word of this
paper entitled
Crash Contagion, just send me an email.

For me, the key lesson for memetics coming out of the mass behaviour
following Diana is not the infectiousness of the mind virus which resulted
in the simultaneous participation of the largest group in the history of
humanity in a single event (Diana's funeral). Rather what is interesting is
the structural role that the mass media played in gatekeeping and selecting
memes for transmission.

A little known memetic fact. Just after Spencer's speech during the
funeral, the congregation did something congregations in (Church of England)
rarely do, and almost never do in funerals. They clapped. The media took
this to mean that the congregation agreed so strongly with what Spencer was
saying that they broke what amounted to a taboo. Much was made of the tacit
recognition by the country's elite that the Royal family had to modernise
that they were prepared to applaud a discourse at a funeral. A day later it
became apparent that the clapping originated not from congregation inside,
but the crowds outside, where the funeral was being projected. The crowd
outside started clapping, and they effectively infected the congregation
inside, who imitated the act. Empirical memetics at work. The people
reached their princess through infection. Much was made of this by the
media who took this to be people power behind the movement to modernise the
Royal Family by applauding Spencer's speech. But the point that is critical
only came to light when a home video camera showed that the reason why the
crowd started clapping because at that moment the televised images of the
funeral had cut from the proceeding inside the Cathedral interior to pan the
huge crowd standing outside. Seeing themselves on T.V. (live transmission)
members of the crowd pointed to themselves and seeing they were on tv,
started clapping. The clapping spread through the crowd and then finally

This, I hope, illustrates the importance of breaking out of the
methodological individualism that permeates much memetic thought. The
structure of society in terms of the lines and channels of communication is
a key determinant in the success of particlar memes. In other words the
relationship to the ownership of the means of transmission of memes is
critical to their success. All memes are created equal, but some memes have
a structural advantage of proximity to the means of transmission.

Further Reading: Douglas Rushkoff - Media Virus

Paul Marsden
Graduate Research Centre in the Social Sciences
University of Sussex
tel/fax (44) (0) 117 974 1279

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