Memetic Manifesto

“A picture held us captive...“ *1

Once, a reformation led to iconoclasm. This reformation tried to reveal what had become invisible in a proliferation of icons, visions, dogmas and indulgences. In the twenty-first century, we are dealing with a new iconoclasm. Mass media enrich us with a flood of images. Due to formats, we are being modeled upon those images. We and our world are increasingly categorized by mass media formats.

BBC Planet Earth
Fragment of the episode ‘Birds of Paradise’
Images of a blue earth, seen from the sky. Images of the earth’s atmosphere. Voice-over: This is our planet. Earth. It’s striking, ever changing, and full of natural wonders. Images of mountains and masses of ice. Images of a river from above. But there is more than this. Much more. Images of flowing lava. Everything is moving. Everything has a rhythm. Our planet is unique in our solar system. Maybe even in the universe. Images of the Rocky Mountains, forests,
a large swarm of black birds. Four and a half billion years shaped the earth into a collection of extraordinary landscapes, into a home for all living species. Images of treetops in a huge forest. The camera descends slowly. Tree branches. Birds.
Voice-over: In the highlands of New Guinea there are forty-two different species of birds of paradise, each more bizarre than the last. Slow motion footage of black shiny birds. The birds twitter and alter their appearance continuously. A blue-black shiny bird with yellow plumes. When it spreads its wings, it looks like a kite. An array of images of mating birds. A ‘ballet’ of colours and shapes.

Discovery Animal Planet
Fragment of the episode ‘River monsters: Vampire Piranha’.
Warning: This episode contains graphic images that may be disturbing to some viewers. Viewer discretion is advised. A young man navigates a small boat down a wide river. According tot the voice-over the river is 4250 miles long, twice the length of the Mississippi. It's mostly wide and slow moving. But at this distant tributary it's quite the opposite. Images of the river with ample maelstroms, waterfalls and torrents of white foam. The boat navigates further down the river. A fifth of all the water on earth, passes through the Amazon. And piranhas and their relatives are found in just about all of it. The boat stops in a river bend. It's full of river monsters. The man holds a fishing rod and throws out a line. Immediately there is tension on the line of the rod. "Oh there's a fish, there's a fish!”, the man shouts excited. “There it is! Jumping out of the water”. Images of a huge fish with large scales. “It's quite strong, it's a strong fish." Voice-over: A predatory fish, with dental hardware, straight out of a horror movie. Images of the fish and two adult men holding it. The mouth of the fish is forced open with a metal crow bar. “This is a Pirajo. It's a relative of the Piranha”, the man says. The camera zooms in. The fangs of the fish are shown in full detail. “Everything got teeth in here, everything is eating everything else.”
We and our world are increasingly organized by mass media formats. The fragments of Planet Earth and Animal Planet illustrate this. For a moment, the format of Planet Earth places the viewer on God’s throne. The viewer is given a God’s eye point of view. This eye is exposed to the serene beauty of nature in which every animal has its place. Meet your planet close up!
The format of Animal Planet turns us into adventurers in a rough wilderness, where ‘survival of the fittest’ is the only rule. With the host as our guide we meet the wild forces of nature. Go Wild!
Mass media formats teach us how to experience our natural environment and ourselves. Formats format us, i.e. formats encourage us to embrace certain attitudes and make us receptive to certain ideas (and beliefs). This is the founding intuition of M e mes.

‘Meme’ is a concept from memetics and signifies 'idea' of 'belief'. The DNA of a culture and its collective memory consist of memes. A few examples: 'nature', 'beauty', 'God', 'survival of the fittest'. All of these are memes. Subsequently there are variations in memes, such as nature being 'an eternal struggle', 'beauty', or 'divine'. Sometimes memes cluster together. They form connections, as in Animal Planet, where 'nature' and 'adventure' form an alliance expressed in the slogan 'Go Wild!'. Memes nourish us by means of formats.

Formats are used in mass media as templates for programs and magazines. Examples of such are 'Kids News', 'lifestyle magazines', 'computer games', 'reality shows', 'porn movies', 'web-logs' and so on.

A format transports certain memes. The format ‘Kids News’ for example, passes on the idea that there is a difference between children and adults (meme 1) This distinction justifies a different approach (meme 2). One will never see an execution in ‘Kids News’. Violent images are not shown because of the belief that children should not be exposed to violence (meme 3). The format ‘Kids News’ formats people; it distinguishes people by age and shields the immature viewer from violence. ‘Being a child’ is born.
The format ‘porn movie’ for example, turns every situation into sex. Whether it concerns the visit of a handyman, a job interview or hitchhiking (meme 1). There will be a balance of power in which one is 'doing' the other (meme 2). People become pure bodies during sex (meme 3). The format “porn movie” formats people. People and their surroundings are being sexualized.

We are being formatted by formats. We are made receptive to certain memes. M e mes surrenders to these formats and ways of being organized and identified. M e mes affirms herself as being and becoming formatted. She writes pamphlets of the past. She becomes the God’s eye of Planet Earth. She goes wild in nature. She observes the world as a mature child. She fornicates.

M e mes parasitizes the formats that incorporate her. In the insides
M e mes grows and flourishes. M e mes is moved from within. She is touched while touching. She is stretched while stretching. She goes along with the flow of formats in order to transform them. She makes small modifications in the structure of formats. M e mes reorganizes and reforms formats from within.
A game in which the player will be punished for his performance. A reality show that creates its own reality: the show creates its viewer, which in turn creates new realities. A porn movie that sanctifies the body as a gift.
People will not be formatted into ‘a gamer', 'reality show audience', or 'porn consumer' by these reformed formats. They will be put in a situation where ‘Man’ is out of order. These reformed formats deform ‘Man’ into a continuous movement of organizing and being organized, identifying and being identified. Everything will be on the move again.

*1. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations §115

Anuska Oosterhuis and Martijn Pieterse

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