Thursday, 20 July 2017

Alternative James Bond memes

There’s an image circulating on the internet of Sean Connery – he’s bearded, so it’s not a Bond-related image, but he’s wearing a dinner jacket and still has the look of Bond – accompanied by the words, ‘A book fell on my head. I can only blame my shelf’. This is one of the many vaguely amusing images that can be found on the internet when searching for ‘James Bond meme’.
 
Some James Bond memes
For most people, the word ‘meme’ refers to any image combined with words for humorous effect or to make a point of some kind and disseminated by social media. Anyone can create them (though presumably few people bother about copyright) and there are various meme generators available.


‘James Bond memes’ is also the name of my blog, which has been running since 2010. In this case, the name refers to another – and original – meaning of ‘meme’. The word was coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. In his seminal 1976 book, The Selfish Gene, Dawkins drew a parallel between biological and cultural evolution, arguing that the two are governed by a similar mechanism. 


The things that make up culture – the ideas, traits and tropes – can be regarded as the units of cultural selection, the process that determines what in culture survives to spread and become a trend or fashion, and what dies or fades away, in much the same way that genes are the units of natural selection. Richard Dawkins called these cultural units 'memes'. Successful memes, like successful genes, are those that are selected or favoured to be replicated often and accurately, and have longevity. 


The cultural environment is also crucial. Memes that are not sympathetic, or cannot adapt, to the prevailing cultural environment may struggle to compete with existing, successful memes, and be not be replicated to any great extent to survive in the longer term. The prevailing environment creates selection pressures that constrain and shape behaviours and choices.


That’s probably enough of the evolutionary theory, but it is worth noting that internet memes are also memes in the Dawkins’ sense of the term. They survive by being transmitted between people (usually via social media), and the most successful memes are those that are copied frequently, become widespread, and just won’t go away. 


It’s easy to see from an internet search which James Bond memes are the most successful ones. There are numerous images of Daniel Craig’s Bond with the Queen (an image taken from the 2012 London Olympics film). A recent version has Bond saying, ‘And Donald Trump, Ma’am’, with the Queen responding, ‘Yes, but make it look like an accident 007’. What makes the meme particularly successful is that it uses ideas or memes that are already well established in popular culture – the image of Bond walking with the Queen and corgis at his heels, and the meme of Bond as assassin (although, as I’ve argued on this blog, he’s nothing of the sort). What also gives the meme an advantage is that it is also adaptable. Other versions I’ve seen include UK and EU politicians; the name can be replaced by any bête noire du jour.

 
Bond takes a walk with the Queen

To be a successful meme, it also needs to have the right Bond. It’s hard to be particularly precise about such matters, but the Bonds of Daniel Craig and Sean Connery are clearly the most popular, followed by those of Pierce Brosnan and Roger Moore. A meme featuring Timothy Dalton or George Lazenby is unlikely to be generated very often or shared very widely. There are probably several reasons for this, but the current Bond (Craig) has an advantage, as does the first Bond (Connery), the Bond that appeared in the most films (Moore), and the Bond that introduced the film series to the social media generation (Brosnan). The ubiquity of these Bonds is also helped by their association with some of most successful entries and most iconic moments in the film series. 

Successful internet James Bond memes include those that draw on Bond-related memes that have become successful in their own right, such as the phrases ‘shaken, not stirred’ and ‘the name is Bond, James Bond’, and the uniform of Bond’s dinner suit. The last is particularly useful, as it unifies the various portrayals and makes the character instantly recognisable. We ought to note, too, that the legend accompanying the images is not necessarily positive, tapping into popular notions about, for instance, Bond’s drinking habits and relationship with women.


Of the Bond villains, Blofeld as portrayed by Donald Pleasence (and his cat) probably generates the most successful memes, though Scaramanga, Alec Trevelyan, and Le Chiffre don’t seem to be far behind. 


While the ‘internet meme’ has become the primary definition of the meme, it also behaves in the way first defined by Richard Dawkins. In that respect, it’s no different from the James Bond memes explored elsewhere in this blog – the ideas and influences found within the Bond books and films and the Bond-related ideas that have made an impact on popular culture.

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