Julia Friese explains what memes have to do with Charles Darwin & what’s behind Barbiecore.
1. gen mem
Anyone who says they want to be successful in pop culture basically means they want to be copied – and remain recognizable in every copy. So he wants to become a meme. In “The Selfish Gene” (1976), evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins explains the characteristics a successful replicator must have: longevity, fertility and fidelity. A gene is a kit with instructions: “if/then”.
In parallel with the gene, Dawkins developed the meme – from the ancient Greek word for imitate – a cultural “if/then” instruction that is also copied from person to person. The biosphere of – to put it in modern English – memes is our brains: If someone sticks to the ten commandments, then they are good. If four people walk across a zebra crossing in long strides one behind the other, then it’s Beatles. When the central character has to listen to a speech at the beginning of the last third of a film, it explains all the development that the character has not gone through before. The speech changes everything. And if that happens, then it’s a bad movie.
2. a lot to unpack
Barbie is a nostalgic meme that Greta Gerwig appropriated for a film in the last third of which a cliched speech effects the development of the protagonist. A classically bad film, but one that is told in images that are as long-lasting as they are fruitful. In other words: The “Barbie” film contains little, but is packaged so richly that the engagement with the little lasts a long time.
“Barbie” begins with Kubrick’s monolith meme (“2001: A Space Odyssey”), it is linked to both Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam” – an image that in its meme mutation has been reduced to the cut-out of the hands classic musical memes (“You shall be my lucky star,” “The Wizard of Oz”) and Insta-share pics. The protagonist is thankfully already branded with a color. If pink, then Barbie. As a result, the brain saw the film in pink flowers and its own shame-pink face in the mirror. Marketing that replicates itself infinitely.
Barbiecore, on the other hand, is a trend that Jovana Reisinger has branded herself on. Her marketing strategy is not to make a contradiction between being a writer and a 2007 Paris Hilton. She wrote in “Vogue” in 2022 that Barbiecore could be read as “a subversion of existing role assignments”; after all, acrylic nails do not allow any conclusions to be drawn about the intellect of the wearer. The meme “If artificial, then stupid” should be deleted. Pink is supposed to mean Barbie, but Barbie is supposed to be nonjudgmental. Barbie, the costume feminist who is never really anything but can dress up into anything – what does she say about the present? Both Reisinger and the step into the life-size Barbie box serve the longing for absolution: the permission to enjoy artificiality.
3. … and the imitation was imitated by those imitated
People mime “Sim” characters on TikTok. NPC – i.e. “Non-Playable Character” – develops from an insult to a longing. Actor Bill Hader goes viral with a scene from a 2015 “Saturday Night Life” sketch. As “Alan – The Future Of Casual Entertainment” it is delivered to a living room in a glass box. Its benefit is unclear. What is “Casual Entertainment”? But his user likes his facial expressions. It is a joy that defies all odds.
Surveys see the AfD at over 20 percent nationwide. On autopilot, you feed AI image generators with selfies in order to encounter yourself again as a smooth avatar, alienated in a generic situation. The cultural journalist Quentin Lichtblau tweets an advertisement for an AI vacuum cleaner and writes that everything that was previously sold as “smart” will in future be sold as “powered by AI”. Because “if artificial, then smart” is the meme of the moment.
This column first appeared in the Musikexpress issue 10/2023.