Memes Ain’t Innocent

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Sep 212012
 

I love Ghost in the Shell. The first movie was one of those gateway drugs in the 90s that I could get almost anyone to watch. The two Stand Alone Complex TV series make up some of the best procedural television ever made. Even the original manga’s pretty damn good-looking, even if it feels like an awkward, evolutionary missing link at this point in the franchise’s history.

But my favorite part of Ghost in the Shell is the second theatrical movie: Innocence.

I get the grief people give this movie. Most of the dialogue is lifted straight from religious and philosophical texts. Characters quote entire passages in their discussions. When people call this lazy, I get it. When writing blog posts and shit, I wish I could just copy/paste some other dude’s writing and pass it off as my own thoughts. That’d be heaven for my inner and outer slacker. But I can’t do that shit because half the time no one’s said the stuff I want to say, so I have to take the time to sorta organize my thoughts and spew them forth into WordPress using my own damn words. That’s how peeps expect you to communicate. Usually.

But I see what Innocence is getting at with this quotation-as-communication. These characters are constantly jacked into this future version of the internet. Your very consciousness can travel across the net and access almost any information possible. Looking up a quote to share with someone is far easier than looking it up in Google and copying it into a Skype chat box. Your mind works faster than your fingers, and it’s literally quicker to download a Descartes quote relevant to your thoughts and spout it out than it is to reform your concept of Descartes ideals into your own words. And not only is it easier for you to regurgitate rather than interpret, that person you’re talking to can just as easily access that quote to better understand its meaning. You don’t have to worry about someone not getting your reference because they can look up said reference in less than a second. Communication seems convoluted and ritualized to someone without this permanent mental connection, but for the participants it’s pretty damn simple and streamlined.

That idea’s fascinating and disturbing. It’s cool that these characters can flow from one complex idea to another just by streaming ideas gathered from online sources, but at the same time I’m not fond of the idea of exclusively using the words of others to express your own thoughts. That process of taking your background knowledge, processing it through your own lens, and reinterpreting it as your share that information is a different experience from simply copy/paste/communicate.

It reminds me a lot of memes. Someone wants to crack a joke or communicate an emotion or thought, so they slap up a picture of a cat with a prefabricated quote. Everyone who uses that picture is communicating the same thought. They might not have the same inflection or intention behind their use of that meme picture, but it’s being expressed in the same way each time someone uses it. That’s what’s going down in Innocence– the characters are communicating in the same way as someone who posts a meme phrase or picture, except instead of referencing Dr. Who or Futurama the characters in Innocence are referencing the Old Testament.

And yeah, I don’t like it. I hate memes. The rub me in all the wrong ways. You see someone post some crappy picture or crack some easy-to-remember joke. The next time you come across a similar situation, you opt to reiterate the very same thing you saw someone else say. It might express your feelings, but it isn’t really you saying it, just like how Batou’s expressing these feelings of identity and shit, but he isn’t using his own words to do so.

It just doesn’t feel right, man. Fascinating on a conceptual level, but shit like robots rising up and murdering all humans because biological life is deemed obsolete is also fascinating on a conceptual level.

Yeah, don’t let the memes go Terminator on our linguistic asses. See, there’s a reference, but it’s my reference.