Saturday, March 27, 2010

making a movement

Richard Dawkins first coined the word "meme" in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. 'Meme' describes an idea, behaviour or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.

Most proto-memes go nowhere and are quickly forgotten, or not noticed at all. However, some memes find a tipping point of sorts - and spread - increasing in momentum as they go.

These ideas are often described as the ones that 'go critical'. 

Some memes needs to mutate to persevere, others can propagate by 'hitch-hiking' on the back of other ideas.

Pondering this I recall a story from Bernie Rhodes.

Around the same time that Dawkins was finalising 'The Selfish Gene', Rhodes was managing The Clash and meme-building in cahoots with Malcolm Mclaren (Sex Pistols) and Jake Riviera (the unsung 3rd man of the original UK punk scene, and manager of The Damned).

Between the three of them they realised that to create a movement - the 'meme' of punk rock - initial 'social proof' needed to be visible.

One band could not do it on their own, but 3 bands could hitch-hike with each other...

Do the arithmetic.

3 bands (Pistols, Clash, Damned) each with four members.
Say each band member has five 'friends', thats 60 people minimum.

So a triple header gig in a small strip joint in Soho has an instant crowd of 60 or so like-minded bods, so to any waif or stray that has wandered in off the street it immediately looks like 'something' is happening.

As more people decide to join in it's not a risk, if they 'get it' no reason not to join in now, and the codes, language, style is all there for them. And punk 'goes critical'.

As Pete Townsend noted (he was one such bystander who witnessed the early punk gigs, as a regular after-hours drinker in Soho's less salubrious spots).

'This is actually happening'.

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