When underground comix were de rigueur, Robert Crumb created a character that was depicted as walking determinedly down the street that popularized the phrase, “Keep on Trucking.” This phrase was probably influenced by “keep on keepin’ on” that was a phrase in Tangled Up In Blue by Dylan.
The phrase means to just keep on living life and putting one foot in front of the other without getting too caught up in the details. The phrase according to Crumb-lore was derived from Blind Boy Fuller song “Truckin’ My Blues Away.” In any case, the Grateful Dead released the song “Truckin‘” on the 1970 Album “American Beauty” that was certainly derived via influence from all of these.
A phrase diametrically opposed to this understanding of truckin‘ was also in common use, “Be Here Now.” This was the title of a book by Ram Dass, that was originally developed from Ram Dass’ manuscript, and illustrated by Lama. The eastern, spiritually inspired text encourages living in the moment and being aware of all that is.
It intrigues me that these two phrases both became emblematic of the attitude associated with the 1960s and 1970s counter culture without any real awareness that they advocate completely and distinctly disparate attitudes about how to happily live life.
Early and Contradictory Memes
It is not strange that complex culture contains contradictions, it is, if not strange, at least intriguing, that such contradictions are overlooked by the people who were influenced by both of these countercultural memes.
A concept that I am playing with is that these are some of the first identifiable memes for the later born boomers created by These are both versions of 1970-ish memes, slow memes, or concepts that went viral in a pre-digital world. When did ideas become memes? Even though I really do not like the man’s other ideas that are all focused on “gene” centered evolution, Richard Dawkins author of the Selfish Gene, did coin the term meme.
Memes in the Digital Age
What meme has come to mean is a bit different from what Dawkins intended. The way we use the word meme is distinct from how he used the term where meme was the smallest replicable bit of cultural meaning akin to the smallest part of a replicable hereditary trait.
The biggest difference that is easy to explain between what he originally meant and how meme is currently used, is that it now needs to be viral. It needs to disperse successfully at frenetic rate – but it does not need to be the smallest unit of meaning. It just needs to be dispersible as a unit, in this case a visual unit, in what is viewed as “the same time.”
If you are intrigued by this concept, I will talk more about slow memes in a future post.
In that “no coincidences” way, Dawkins’ book is on my night table, waiting….
LOL. Serendipity! Synchronicity, or something!
Do you really think the two are diametrically opposed? I’m not sure I co. By your own definition you say the “keep on keepin on” means keep on living life and putting one foot in front of the other without getting too caught up in the details. That sounds a lot like being here now to me.
Toni, I thought what you thought for a long time, then I sat down and analyzed it because I am OCD when it comes to semiotics. Truckin’ is more like “Whatever.” and Being in the now is more like “Yes.” Being in the now is awareness of details even while not being attached to them. Truckin’ is more like gliding over the surface. Does that make sense?
Yes it does. I see your point more clearly now. Thanks Nancy.
Toni, I know the nuance between these examples seem obscure, but the small differences are the defining ones. And as I examine the whole “what is a meme” thing, the small differences are crucial to seeing what makes the concept a useful one.
Tam Warner Minton
I still don’t get the whole meme thing.
I’ve been wrestling with the concept of the meme since a seminar in the late 1970s. So I am finally writing about it.
Great post! I love reading about memes. I find them so telling of what’s currently hot and happening. Do write more please! I have to admit though, I can’t stand the GD. They remind me of a drug culture…I know…but they do!
There is certainly that aspect to them, Carolann, but iconic representations provide meaning to the generations that use those representations, and they exist outside of the specifics of the material world from which they arose. Adoption of language often flows from the edges of society to the inner core of society.
I never really thought about the whole concept of memes but now that you bring it up…
I thought the two you illustrated were the same concept. How interesting, Nancy. I hope you do address this further.
Cathy, I’m actually trying to describe some really difficult concepts (that can still confuse me) within the core of semiotic theory into real life by translating them into real world examples. The difference is really akin to all signs being broken down into the three classes of signs: icons, indexes and symbols. So I’m exploring how the concept of meme relates to these signs. Clear as mud, right?
Another very thought provoking post. I never knew I cared and now I will be thinking about this all night because of my ocd:)
Oh no, now I’ve triggered someone else’s OCD! 🙂
Always loved hearing “keep on keepin’ on” …in a way it makes perfect sense. Just keep going…
Yes, Sheryl, the phrase is very descriptive per the actions it takes to get through life. It makes me smile. As does the Be Here Now phrase, although that speaks more to attitude than action.
This was fascinating to me. I still don’t get the meme thing at all.
I will write more on memes soon. All will become clear!