Blumer’s article on fashion made me think of internet memes so, for your viewing pleasure, I’m going to go through fashion’s “essential conditions” to see if memes hit all of them.

First, a definition of memes (from Wikipedia):

At its most basic, an Internet meme is simply the propagation of a digital file or hyperlink from one person to others using methods available through the Internet (for example,email, blogs, social networking sites, instant messaging, etc.). The content often consists of a saying or joke, a rumor, an altered or original image, a complete website, a video clip or animation, or an offbeat news story, among many other possibilities. In simple terms, an Internet meme is an inside joke, that a large number of Internet users are in on.

Essential conditions of fashion:

1. The area must be in movement, with people ready to discard old fashions for the new and a premium placed on being up-to-date. Check!  New memes are constantly coming into existence, and are passed around as a form of social currency.  Those who know about new memes first get to show them to their friends so it’s good to be up-to-date.

2. “.. the area must be open to the recurrent presentation of models or proposals of new social forms… their presence introduces a competitive situation and sets the state for selection between them.” Ok, I don’t think I understand this one as well but I’m going to interpret it as: “there’s always lots of new stuff and so it is competitive to see which new stuff gets adopted as popular.”  Check!  In the case of memes it’s even more extreme than in clothing fashion as there are literally (probably) millions of new photos and videos uploaded to the internet every day, any of which could become a meme.

3. People can freely choose between all the different models – they must be “observable” and “available for adoption”. Check and check.  Lots of public video and photos which can be easily forwarded / shown to friends.

4. The merit of competing models can’t be empirically tested, there is no utilitarian reason for deciding amongst one or the other. Check.  Double-rainbow guy does not have any utilitarian effect upon anyone!  There is no “test” for deciding the value of one video against another.

5. There are experts who weigh in on competing models, and the likelihood of a model being adopted is enhanced if it’s been given the thumbs up by these experts. Check!  Popular blogs link to trending memes which enhances their popularity even more.

6. “the area must be open to the emergence of new interests and dispositions in response to (a) the impact of outside events, (b) the introduction of new participants into the area, and (c) changes in inner social interaction.” Check!  This might even be a double-check.  I would say memes do this in the extreme – has one person ever successfully spawned two different memes?

So according to Blumer I would say that internet memes certainly have fashion “in play”.  This doesn’t mean that internet memes and clothing fashion are exactly parallel, of course, and one of the biggest differences that I wonder about is the viral nature of memes.  I think clothing fashion has a more established hierarchy – it’s likely that this season’s fashions will come from, at least in part, the big-name designers.  Memes, however, can come from anywhere.  They typically seem to be random videos or images that went viral for whatever reason (what causes things to go viral is a whole other topic), and are not generated consistently by the same people.  (The only exception I can think to this is 4chan which tends to generate a lot of memes).  But Blumer’s article doesn’t list a hierarchy of creators as a requirement for fashion so I don’t think this excludes memes from being a “fashion process”.

Advertisements