The Internet Meme – Heteronomous Low Culture

In his 1949 dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell introduced readers to the nightmare of a truly totalitarian state. In my view, the most interesting aspect of the novel is how the people of Airstrip One are kept subservient. Unlike the despotisms of old, where the simple brute force of the state would hold down the serfs, Orwell’s dystopia chose mass propaganda and culture creation to maintain order. Orwell understood that to maintain control in an industrial state where the masses had grown so much and the elite so little, absolute force would be of secondary importance to enforcing mental slavery.

In the novel, Orwell describes many different state departments that deal with the various aspects of order maintenance.  Of particular interest is Prolesec – the department committed to creating numerous kinds of practically worthless articles of entertainment in an attempt to soothe and pacify the numerous members of the proletariat class. What Orwell seemingly missed was that these kinds of productions could be created not only in an absolutist command economy but also (and arguably even more effectively) in ‘Western’ corporate-driven paradigms.

Today’s networking technologies and culture allow and encourage the creation of prolefeed. What Orwell did not foresee, however, is that the proles would create their own prolefeed. Through internet memes, the average person only needs to dedicate a minute portion of their mind to processing and ‘adding’ to the meme through a slight change in presentation. This therefore gives the person a sense that they are creating something (at little cost of energy or talent and supporting a sense of false autonomy) and engenders a sense of ‘community’ amongst those that take part in the development and appreciation of the meme. Through open inspection and ratings by participants, the particular meme (or a variation thereof) can be judged as ‘win’ or ‘fail’ –   thereby either affirming or negating the net ‘social capital’of the producer.

The nature of the meme is that it is about adhering to varying levels of heteronomy. The degrees of adherence to the laws of the meme may determine whether the product is a ‘win’ or a ‘fail’. Products that adhere most closely to the original rules of the meme whilst changing the meaning are usually judged more favourably than those that do not. Imitation, not independent creative endeavours, are rewarded in this context. To think like the mass in a quasi-anarchic mess of low culture is the essence of the meme and the ‘communities’ that grow up around them.

On top of this, the content of the vast majority of memes contain little to nothing of real value. Most are mindless repetitions, childish rhyming and declarations combined with imagery which usually end up losing their entire context. Whilst there are some memes that encourage important thought, these are very much the exception rather than the rule.

So get prolefeed not just from government and corporations, but from their fellow proles. Their bellies fill up with the mindless trash given to them and they regurgitate it into the mouths of others, the gobs of stupidity and chunks of banality evolving and mutating slightly as the process repeats over and over again.

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a meaningless mantra stupefying a human mind forever.

This entry was posted in Commentary, Philosophy, Technology and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Internet Meme – Heteronomous Low Culture

  1. consentient says:

    Brilliant insight. Of course, as puerile as most memes are, they are still possibly more worthwhile than the exabytes of ‘status updates’ that an astonishing percentage of the population in ‘Western’ countries make several times a day.

    – – –
    “Just got home,” “about to shower!” “My dog chewed my sandals while I was in the shower!!!” “Still wet from the shower. ‘bout to eat. Yummmmm!” “This chicken tastes funny” “I think that chicken is giving me the shits!!”
    – – –

    Examples taken from:

    There seems no limit to the crushing mindlessness of enabling technology in the hands of people who have nothing to do with it, and who are unaware that the main utility of that technology is to pacify and entertain them.

  2. Pingback: reverse psychology and propaganda should not exist « power of language blog: partnering with reality by JR Fibonacci

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