Thursday, June 26, 2008

Meme 123 & The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher

Previously, I noted my ignorance of Googlisms. Well, it appears that I'm also ignorant about Internet memes (and, as a folklorist, I should really be ashamed to admit that on several levels).

I've certainly received and participated in Internet memes without knowing that they had a name (again, "Duh, isn't that the exact experience students have in an intro to folklore class?"). But, unsurprisingly, the Wikipedia entry linked above is woefully insufficient.

So, if someone could explain Internet memes to me more thoroughly, I'd appreciate it. And tell me how they get their this the techno-nerd-savvy version of knowing the tale-type number of Little Red Riding Hood? (AT333, BTW.)

Anyway, here's "meme 123," which I stumbled across recently, and which the rest of you probably have known about for years:

1) Pick up the nearest book.
2) Open it to page 123.
3) Find the fifth sentence.
4) Post the next three sentences.
5) Pass the meme on to five more people, and acknowledge the person who tagged you.

At the moment, I'm reading The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale. It's a terrific work of non-fiction that the author has structured like a classic English country-house mystery, since the case she describes here--the gruesome 1860 murder of a three-year old boy--was, in fact, the real-life prototype of that genre. (She does a great job of showing how later 19th-century detective novels borrow elements of the case, thus prolonging its notoriety.)

So, here's what's on page 123:

"In its influential editorial on the Road Hill murder, the Morning Post alluded to this case: 'That it should be a child [who killed Saville] would be incredible if Eugenie Plummer had not taught us to what length the wicked precocity of of some children will extend.' Eugenie's precocity was sexual, but it also rested in her cool deceit, her composure under pressure, the containment and channeling of her disturbance into bare lies. If newspaper readers had been horrified to find a clergyman convicted of sexually molesting a child in 1859, they must have been even more disturbed, a year later, to find the situation had been turned upside down to revel the child as the agent of evil, a creature who had undone a man's life with her lewd imaginings."

Oh, those wacky Victorians! (Hmm--there are strings of phrases in that excerpt that are likely to bring in a lot of unfortunate traffic. Ah well.)

Anyway, that passage both gives a taste of the text and doesn't do it justice. While I will say that Summerscale does get bogged down in documentation in some places (do we really need so many quotes from contemporary newspapers and letters?), for the most part, she accomplishes a difficult feat: putting together a text that is gripping, suspenseful, and scholarly all at once.


yarmando said...

Isn't "motifeme" a conflation of "motif" and "meme?" You must have run across it before. You're just blocking it out.

Since I'm sitting in a library, the "nearest" book holds no interest to me, but this one, Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, was on the hold shelf for me this morning:

"You're being paranoid, Marcus," he told me over breakfast one day as I told him about the guys I'd seen the cops shaking down on the BART the day before.

"Dad, it's ridiculous. They're not catching any terrorists are they? It's just making people scared."

Rose said...

"Meme" I get; it's just the internet version I'm trying to understand. But my interests are largely academic and nerdy, like who attached the idea of "memes" to internet phenomena and when, and whether people *know* they're using folklore terms when they talk about these things. (The old "Does she know she's Catwoman?" conundrum.)

BTW, I'll just add "duh #3" to my post about this: this is just meme 123 (I assume) because of what it asks you to do, not because memes all get numbered. You can't blame a geeky gal for hoping, though, that somebody's devised a classification system for these things.

ldoyle said...

Meme theory, genetics, and technology memes: