TD07 – Kinds of Memes

Evolutionary design emerges from the survival of fitness in ever-changing environments. Survival is the thing!

There are many different ways that memes have evolved to survive. Here are some of them:

Survival memes

If a meme gives its host a survival advantage it is a survival meme. A safe sex meme that allows a host to live longer is a survival meme. An exercise meme that makes for a fitter host offers a survival advantage over those people who are not infected with the meme.

An experienced flying instructor shows a pilot what to do when an engine fails. I find I’m speculating now on the kind of meme battle that may have taken place in the mind of my friend John Kennedy Jr before he left the tarmac. Perhaps memes from his flying instructors may have battled with memes about getting to the wedding on time. Who knows?

Survival memes have an advantage because if hosts survive longer they spread their memes longer and more often than other memes.

Missionary memes

Some drug-taking memes are missionary memes if they are spread from the user to the non-user. Smokers have offered me many cigarettes over the years and occasionally I have accepted even though I don’t enjoy tobacco. Yesterday two pleasant young Mormon missionaries rung my doorbell to offer their memes. They gave me a copy of the Book of Mormon and, in return, I gave them one of my CDs, a kind of meme-exchange. Interestingly, while thanking me politely, they told me they would not be allowed to listen to the CD.

Most people I know have been subjected to Amway-type ‘opportunity’ memes disguised as invitations for drinks or lunch etc. Whatever the approach, whether overt or covert, missionary memes acquire new people by being spread from one missionary to another.

Fad memes

Memes that spread quickly and then die out quickly may be fad memes.


Fashions and trends and crises may be fad memes. Public opinion can be infected with fad memes. Memes like Climate Change may be both a fad meme and a survival meme or other ‘current affairs’ memes. American trend analyst, Gerald Celente, asks in Trend Tracking,

Have you ever switched from channel to channel during the news? You find that the networks are all covering the same stories, in the same order, in the same way. You can almost go from one to the other without missing anything.

You can find fad memes infecting the stock market, or any market for that matter. The media is where many fad memes find a haven because of the constant demand by reporters for new material. In a crisis, fad memes may spread so quickly that a business can be caught off guard to the point that it’s brand suffers permanent damage which itself becomes another crisis.

41ACANK3BSL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Australian crisis management guru, Ross Campbell, has written a book to help businesses avoid this crisis within a crisis. In Crisis Control: Preventing and Managing Corporate Crises he warns,

Bad news makes headlines. And no matter where you are today, the media is never very far away. It takes only moments to beam the news into our homes from isolated locations. And crises have become spectator sports. We are a world of watchers. After all, millions of viewers watched the world-shattering royal crisis in Paris when Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi Al-Fayed were killed in a horrific car crash. And rumour will run the agenda unless there is a plan. In the early hours of the disastrous Mercedes crash in the Paris tunnel, some television reports indicated that the Princess of Wales only had a few scratches and mild concussion. The media had problems of reporting a disaster that was sealed off in a tunnel with few witnesses. Rumour ran riot with a battle of agendas being waged by a number of stakeholders including the French authorities, the British government and the spin doctors of the Al-Fayed business interests.

Impact memes

Repetition is the way most memes gain power but some memes are instantly powerful due to their high impact. You may remember the scene in a teen movie where one teenager starts projectile vomiting and that sets off a chain reaction until everyone on the screen is spewing diced carrots. In some cases this affected members of the audience, too. Since no-one was ill before the triggering event it may be an example of a an impact meme.

In his book, The Odd Brain, Dr Stephen Juan of the Faculty of Education at the University of Sydney may have the explanation:

There have been many cases of the phenomenon known as Epidemic Hysteria. For no apparent reason, a group of people will experience symptoms of illness. This may involve children of an entire school, travellers on a bus, or the whole audience at a rock concert. Besides fainting and hallucinating, symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, and dehydration. Such epidemics may last several hours or even days. When one person experiences the symptoms, other people, seeing that person, experience the symptoms too.

Ritual or ceremonial memes may have a lasting effect due to their great impact. Most cultures are rich with splendid ritual which is adorned with artefacts, music and other high impact memes. The same can be seen in most of the military traditions of the various cultures. In Knights at Court Professor of Italian Studies at New York University, Aldo Scaglione, describes the famous dubbing ritual of chivalry in which a young nobleman was made a knight:

In the thirteenth century descendants of knights generally started to inherit the title, yet they were not considered full knights unless formally dubbed. The ceremonial dubbing of knights, widely practised from early in the twelfth century, was more than a ritual: it picturesquely symbolized a set of mental attitudes which related to the practical functions of knighthood, and it also marked the official recognition of a special status for these mounted solders. The specific ceremony of the granting of knighthood culminated in the girding or belting with the sword and tapping with the lord’s sword on the shoulder or “dubbing”. The custom of an all-night vigil before the investiture confirmed the sacramental nature of the procedure.


Performance utterances may also derive power as impact memes. Because of the intimidating surroundings such as a courtroom or cathedral, and the high office of the utterer, certain pronouncements have a very high impact and impress a very strong pattern on the brain of the subject.

tl_34-2_web_page18_image1In the Glossary of Cognitive Science they are listed in this way:

Performative utterances. Sometimes in using words we perform a particular kind of act. Examples include a minister’s pronouncing a couple husband and wife, thereby marrying them; or a judge’s announcing that a convict will serve twenty years for a crime, thereby passing sentence. In order for these speech acts to be efficacious as performances, several conditions must be met, including that the person uttering them must be authorised to perform those acts, that the participants in those acts must be appropriate for their roles.

Family memes

ban-on-condoms-7Memes that in any way cause the host to have a larger family – more wives, more children – than they otherwise would have are family memes. This effect increases the number of hosts that can spread the meme.

For example, many religious memeplexes include family memes which may inhibit birth control or memes that may keep women restricted to family roles or memes that attack non-breeding sexual activity.

Propaganda memes

Memes designed to control thinking may be propaganda memes. These memes may be designed by the ‘thought police’ of Big Government, Big Business or Big Religion for propagation via the Big Media of television networks, news conglomerates and Hollywood. Propaganda memes may involve censorship, prohibition or re-education.



We are all familiar with memes like Nazi book-burning or the Vatican’s List of Prohibited Books or US Senator McCarthy’s ‘blacklist meme’ and they are always with us but proliferate before and during wars. As did the ‘domino theory meme’ and the ‘war to end all wars’ meme.

The internet may make it more difficult for Big Brother propaganda memes to survive.

DFQ TD07 (Feedback Question):

Give your own different example, from these kinds of memes listed above, and say what kind of meme you think your example is?

194 thoughts on “TD07 – Kinds of Memes

  1. The celebration of the Catholic mass where wine and bread are transfomed into the blood and body of Jesus Christ is a high impact, repetitive meme.

  2. Polonius in Act-I, Scene-III of William Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet “Neither a borrower or a lender be” – Missionary Meme. My mum who grew up in the working-class East End of London used to repeat this phrase passed on from her father and has never borrowed money or had any form of credit in her life. Wasn’t strong enough to be passed on for another generation….

  3. The current US president, and many politicians around the world, use impact memes to ensure that their position stays with their public and beyond. The message simplicity, such as ‘lock-her-up’ or ‘fake news’, coupled with constant repetition leverages the crowd effect that Gustave Le Bon explained more than a hundred years ago.

  4. Save the planet ; efficient energy ; renewable energy ; reuse – recycle all of these are Survival Meme..

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