I’ve noticed that in mass media, there are trends and fashions, just like everywhere else, and it’s my best guess that they emanate from New York. Yesterday, I was listening to a NY based commentator on NPR discussing the “Occupy Wall Street” meme and from where it had evolved. And I realized that I was hearing the word “meme” an awful lot lately.
Apparently “meme” has replaced “trope,” the “in” word of 2010. I remember seeing Malcolm Gladwell on Jon Stewart’s show, and he seemed to adore the word. Being a notable idea man, Gladwell could have started the trend.
“Trope” replaced “turn,” as in a “star turn”—which apparently means “featured performer.” (I used the phrase to describe a year in Queen of Shadow, but in the book it’s a reference to the length of time it took the planet Janus to circle its sun. When I wrote that I was living in Thailand in 2008 and wasn’t reading much US mass media).
Prior to the popularity of star turn in the mass media, one could not read a movie review without the film being described as “a smart, funny ride,” just as a year prior every film review seemed to use the phrase “star turn.”
All of these copycat catchphrases are substitutes for inventiveness, and are a way for the writer to self-identify with media leaders. That “meme” is this year’s fave term is ironic since the word means, according to Merriam-Webster, “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.”
We all do things to make ourselves feel good. I eat savory foods. Ernest Borgnine masturbates (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3I_PeLNzxNQ). NY journalists use cool words that the rest of us here in the hinterlands aren’t likely to know without finding them in the Urban Dictionary.