Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Place where Memes Come to Die -Part One

One of the nice things about where I live is that you can follow the railway tracks from behind my house out into the eastern badlands of scrapyards and smeltering plants. This is the region in which the technological and mechanical artefacts of civilization lie dismantled and sorted into piles; some of them silvery, some rusty, some magpie and mottled, all of them waiting to be melted down into slag and turned, eventually, into new and useful--but still more or less disposable--items.

Yesterday I walked the tracks a little farther than I had ever gone, and I stumbled upon a strange and wonderous seemingly forgotten depot hidden in behind a used tire lot: the fabled Meme Graveyard. It is in this place that all those cultural units of manufactured meaning come to rest when they have outlived their shelf life in the Zeitgeist. I could see them all lying there in piles and nobody had seemed to take the time to sort them into any kind of order. Some appeared to have completely expried, while others--perhaps more recently deposited--twtiched and sputtered in the open air. The combined susurrations of the still active memes created an eerie, very faint kind of music, and I was unable to stop myself from leaving the main path, pushing my way through the intervening brush and clambering over the rusty old fence into the scrapyard.

My God but the place was much larger than it appeared from the trail! Mounds of muttering memes seemed to stretch for acres into the distance. Venturing a short ways into the yard I was suddenly surrounded by legions of wilted slogans, dented catchphrases, unhinged fads and outmoded theories, the cumulative effect of which was so overwhelming I almost swooned from the nostalgic pathos of it all. Bending an ear, I could pick out some individual signals from the cacophonic conglomeration. Rubic's Cubes were conversing with Mr. T's haircut. Boxes of discontinued breakfast cereal were broadcasting their merits to an audience of emaciated Smurfs. The continual lullaby of hashed advertisements, forgotten miracle diets, street slang and canned laughter almost sent me into a kind of stupor. I was kept alert, though, by the fear that if I lost consciousness in that strange place I might never awaken, but rather drift into eternity on a dreamlike tide of forgotten culture.

I searched my pockets for a rag or Kleenex with which I might stop my ears against the siren song of the scrapyard. Empty. Empty save for a Battlestar Galactica figurine I had found earlier at a thrift shop and spent the last of my change on. In the darkness of my pocket my fingers charted the contours of Commander Adama's miniature visage. A rare find, to be sure, and worth the fifty cents I paid for him. Suddenly I heard a muffled voice. It sounded like...could it be? Was that Lorne Greene?! Could he too have fallen victem to the truncated attention spans of our information ravaged new millenium? It was hard enough seeing Micheal Jackson's sequined glove quivering there in the sunlight, but Lorne Greene?! I was about to run from the place in terror when I realized that the voice was coming from the action figure in my pocket. Of course! I laughed to myself. It wasn't unreasonalbe that in such an environment action figures should talk. After all, wasn't that a Pee Wee Herman doll sitting atop yonder scrap mound, holding court with a family of Care Bares and a box of Milk Duds? I took the tiny commander out of my pocket so that his voice could ring out in all its polished mahogany tone.

"By the Prophets, lad! You've wandered into a viper's pit. Better plug your ears before you loose your senses!" I held the action figure, with its painted white hair and blue uniform, in the palm of my hand. His marching band arms and legs remained stiff, jointed only at the shoulders and hips, but his mouth had a sort of animation to it as he talked, and his tiny eyes seemed to roll from side to side in his head as if surveying the surroundings. The effect was unsettling so I avoided looking at him/it for too long.

"Er...Mr. Greene, sir... it's a real pleasure. I loved your work in Gunsmoke." Talking to an action figure seemed surprisingly natural, after the first few awkward moments wore off.

"Call me Adama," the weird little eyes were locked on me, "Greene was the name they gave my earthly host body. No time for pleasantries, son. You'd better get something in those ears or neither of us will be walking out of here anytime soon. What's in that satchel of yours?" I had forgotten about my shoulder bag--some of my friends call it a "man purse"--I take it everywhere, but there was nothing ear-stuffworthy to be found in it.

"Look there!" The figurine moved one of its tiny stick arms with startling celerity in the direction of a nearby bolster display pack. It appeared to be full of small plastic eggs. Silly Putty! That would do. I snatched up an egg and squeezed so as to pop open the two ovoid hemispheres and release the pliable, flesh coloured gum inside. Pinching off two small waxy wads I stuffed my ears--and not a moment too soon as I was really starting to loose my thoughts to the stream of auditory detritus that was continually broadcasting from the surrounding mountains of lost memes...one small step for you're softening in it, one giant leap for I bought the company! brought to you by Heisenberg's uncertainty principle in the beginning was the loose weight today!...suddenly everything went quiet and I could hear the texture of my own thinking agian.

Wow. Was that the power of the cyber/media morass in which we spend so much of our time? I was starting to understand the mass appeal of sport utility vehicles; they're like mobile isolation tanks--a wrapper of glass and steel to put between yourself and the maelstrom of signals that constantly bombard one in the open air. But how many SUVs don't have raidos? Maybe one could devise a new kind of media damper device, something small and portable...Adama's voice suddenly intruded upon my thoughtstream.

"Feel better?" His voice, louder now, sent a pleasant shiver down my spine. So melodius! But how could I still hear him with the putty in my ears?
"Telepathic Signalling Resonace. TSR for short. Like a cellular cell phone."
"Wow! So you can, like..."
"Read your thoughts like a teleprompter, yes. Now listen. Our meeting was not coincidence. We have a mission to perform. Take the rest of those eggs of Silly Putty and put them in your manpurse. They might come in handy later. A cultural nexus portal is about to collapse and we don't have much time."

....to be continued

2 comments:

em said...

I KNEW it! Inside I knew it all along.

Soldier on brave meme-not.

loveandsalt said...

I love it. Request--don't go too far away into sci-fi speak. The wonder of this (I use that word seriously) is in how it stays close enough to reality to hurt.