A “meme” is a basically a “thought virus.”
In the same fashion that influenza infects one person, replicates itself and then spreads to another, eventually infecting large numbers of a population; memes follow the same process through the consciousness of our culture, affecting (or “infecting” if you wish) the way we react or behave. Unlike an “urban legend,” which is a widespread false story wrongly accepted as fact; or a “fad,” which is a behavior that explodes in popularity and quickly dies; a meme is more akin to a belief or a concept that affect our view of society — and therefore how we react to it.
As illustration, a recent diet meme was “carbs are bad, protein is good.” This spread so quickly and deeply to the point that some honestly believed that scarfing down a one pound bacon cheeseburger — providing you avoided the bun — was a healthy method of dropping weight. This misguided all-protein diet meme spawned several variations of fad diets. Currently, although the meme might remain, those diets are mostly debunked.
Today’s column had its impetus because I was (once again) irritated with an action by our “leaders.” In this instance, the meme currently winding its way through conventional wisdom is that Congress has defined pizza as a vegetable. The underlying logic (if indeed it can be classified as such) was that since a certain amount of tomato paste equates to a “vegetable,” and whereas there is more than said amount on pizzas; they too would therefore be classified as vegetables.
I imagined children being told by their parents, “If you don’t eat your pizza, you won’t get any dessert,” or seeing the old food pyramid returning with “pesto-chicken pizza” or “double pepperoni” on par with carrots and lettuce. (We can only wish.)