Some Theories on Cultural Memes and True Blood Season 4

First, a quick bit of cultural theory.

In 1976, Richard Dawkins coined the term ‘meme’, as a way of explaining the way culture, an idea, a behaviour, any kind of trend, is formed.  In much the same way as a gene gives us our physical blueprint a meme forms our culture, embedded in society and reproducing itself as it transmits from person to person, group to group to become an accepted cultural reality.

Step forward to the 21st Century, and the Internet has become the most potent avenue, or vector for meme transmission we have ever seen.  I’m not specifically referring to Blog Memes– the repeated formulas of information such as a weekly post of Current Reads or Current Favourite Films posted across a blog network, although these are memetic by definition.  The type of memes I’m specifying here are any kind of forwarded email (quite often humour), shared Facebook posts, things re-tweeted on Twitter, basically anything that circulates among people, usually ending up far away from its original source.  One of the most widespread forms of Internet enabled meme is the viral video.

Videos were going viral long before You Tube, usually as email attachments.  Sites like You Tube were formed from this trend as powerful vectors where individuals and even other vectors, Pop Cultured for instance, can source memetic material.

But of course, we don’t go looking in terms of “what meme can I transmit today?” We head over to You Tube to engage with material that interests us, that appeals to us for any number of reasons. Equally, we don’t post a video on Facebook because we intend to act as a memetic vector, we post it because we like it and we think others will get a kick out of it too.  This functioning through individuality is the absolute key to the power of a cultural meme.  We like them, and whether it is because we enjoy the immediacy of the video form, as opposed to something we have to read, we especially like videos. And it didn’t take long for this phenomenon to be exploited by companies with something to sell.

Earlier this year, HBO created ‘Waiting Sucks’, a series of video previews to promote the upcoming 4th season of True Blood.  The videos went viral and Pop Cultured, acting as a vector because we liked them and thought you would too, we shared them on social media.

Here are a couple we missed.

Waiting Sucks.

Waiting Sucks.

HBO recently hit the web again with another series of videos featuring the show’s actors promoting support for viewers suffering TBW – True Blood Withdrawal.

An Important Message from Anna Paquin (Sookie)

An Important Message from Stephen Moyer (Bill)

An Important Message from Ryan Kwanten (Jason)

An Important Message from Nelsan Ellis (Lafayette)

An Important Message from Deborah Ann Woll (Jessica)

An Important Message from Sam Trammell (Sam)

An Important Message from Kristen Bauer Van Straten (Pam)

An Important Mesage from Joe Manganiello (Alcide)

An Important Message from Rutina Wesley (Tara)

An Important Message from the Cast of True Blood

My name is Kate, and I’m a True Blood addict.

Tying into the existing ‘Waiting Sucks’ campaign – “Makes Waiting Suck a Lot Less”, as well as specific character traits from the show, these work because they’re funny.  Also, they connect to viewers personally, tapping in to that feeling we get when we’re really missing the viewing experience of a show we especially  like to watch, and giving that feeling credence by treating it as a serious psychological addiction, even of that is done with tongue in cheek.  TB Withdrawal makes it ok for us to be True Blood addicts, and provides a space – where that addiction can be fuelled, creating a greater sense of anticipation about the new season and ensuring a bumper audience for the premiere.  They also work by using the actors, not the characters, heightening the sense that TB Withdrawal is a reality.  Plus, we also enjoyed listening to Ryan Kwanten’s Aussie accent.

But just in case you haven’t been paying attention enough to really develop some true True Blood Withdrawal, they’ve also gone so far as to recap the storylines from season 1-3 in another very clever viral video.

The effectiveness of this works in a number of ways.  If a viewer needs to refresh their memories of narrative continuation before the 4th season starts, then this video does it. If you’re a new viewer wondering what all this True Blood fuss is all about then this video brings you up to speed.  And even if you’re a real TBW sufferer, this video will fuel that fire, you’ll head to the site, and you’ll engage with the extra promotional material, you may even buy a bit of merchandise.

Viral videos are a whole different type of advertising. Instead of feeling like consumers being tricked into buying things we don’t really need, the video gives us something we want for free – Entertainment. It fuels our individuality by fostering fandom, and promoting a sense of community formed through that fandom. HBO gives us us.

by Kate Murphy

© 2011, Kate Murphy


Kate Krake

Kate Krake (aka Kate Murphy) is a writer with a long established passion for all realms of popular culture. She lives in Brisbane, Australia. Find out more on Kate's Blog.