Academic journal article Organization Development Journal

"Kilroy Was Here", "Where's the Beef?" and "Marlboro Man" a Memetic Insight for Organizational Development

Academic journal article Organization Development Journal

"Kilroy Was Here", "Where's the Beef?" and "Marlboro Man" a Memetic Insight for Organizational Development

Article excerpt

Memes are information patterns or cultural information that can be passed fi-om mind to mind. A meme is transmitted knowledge. This paper sets out to illustrate this conceptual entity and the relatively new science it is spawning, and suggests ways that it could developed that may prove useful for the Organizational Development (O.D.) discipline. In particular; the paper sets out to demonstrate the power of stories in transmitting these informational patterns.

Key Words: Organi:ational Development, Memes, Memetics, Storytelling

Introduction Memetics, a term first associated with the socio-biology of Dawkins (1976) and more latterly with the philosophy-of-the-mind of Dennet (1991) refers to the contagious transfer [replication] of intellectual and / or cultural information. Thus, not unlike the action of replication and evolution performed by a gene, a 'meme' [pronounced "meem"] - taken to be a single information pattern - is its parallel in the cultural world. Hence, and herein lies the power in this new discourse, memetics postulates the meme as the fundamental replicating unit in social evolution, just as the gene is to biological [genetic] evolution.

Yet, as this journal is aimed at likely lay-readers of memetics, and to avoid cries of `what?' and `so?', the central precepts and conclusions for the discipline of business are probably best got onto quickly. Moreover, they are probably best obtained by first abstracting from some of the dedicated academic literature on this topic exemplars closer to home. It is to this then that attention now turns. Individual slogans, catch phrases,

melodies, icons, inventions, and fashions as contagious information patterns that replicate themselves by parasitically infecting human minds and altering their behaviour, moreover, causing them to replicate the pattern are memes. A meme therefore exists in the world because people pass it on to others, either horizontally to their peers or vertically to the next generation. "Kilroy was here" is an illuminating example (Bjameskans et al.). "Kilroy Was Here" The graffiti slogan "Kilroy was here" can now, given this new memetic discourse, be rightly termed a meme. The meme transpires from the actions of a wharf inspector, James J, Kilroy, from Massachusetts, who used the words "Kilroy was here" to mark those products he had tested and approved, before they were shipped to various battlegrounds during the Second World War. Seemingly appearing everywhere the slogan caught the imagination of many of the soldiers who copied it onto various writing surfaces. Others seeing this slogan now in perhaps even more unlikely places copied it again to other locations to spread the myth. Indeed, this continued for several decades. However, as many of us can now bear testimony to, the slogan [meme] seems to have died at least in active form. The question "why?" is not so important for our purposes here, yet interesting now that we are into this sojourn. The age of the 'infected' population is perhaps part of the reason. As graffiti is age dependent those originally infected grew up. Moreover, the context of the message was lost as other forms of graffiti with more contemporary relevance and stronger ties to subcultures emerged. But perhaps the main reason is that its original relevance and appeal was the surprise factor of a "Kilroy was here" that can no longer be had as the slogan becomes more numerous. The point of this example is then the way that an information pattern was replicated. Okay, so it was not such a useful piece of information. That is not the point. Rather, in this case, the ability of an essentially meaningless information pattern to be reproduced is. Considering a more relevant example [Where is the Beef?] used recently by Gelb (1997) within the context of advertising serves to illustrate the point further. "Where's the Beer" Here the Wendy's hamburger copy line "Where's the Beef" was reborn in 1984 as political rhetoric. …

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