Dr. Toon: The Meme of the Crop
One of the more interesting conceptions in evolutionary psychology (yeah, I'm still on that kick from last month) is the meme. The formulation of the meme, and its subsequent science, memetics, originated with one Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene. To put it simply, Dawkins drew a parallel between biological transmissions via genes and the passing on and replication of an idea through a unit of cultural transmission. The information contained in this unit can be anything that exists in a given culture. Dawkins used such examples as songs, fashion styles, and anything that seems to universally "catch on" among members. A successful meme takes on nearly universal recognition and meaning to everyone, and thus propagates itself through the population. Succeeding memeticists developed increasingly complex theories about the formation and transmission of memes, but that is beyond the scope of this piece; for now let's stick with the basics.
One of the most successful methods memes have of getting passed around is through a medium called the catchphrase. These memes consist of a single, short sentence that has an inauspicious beginning, spreads through a culture, becomes universal, and eventually lives out its life and disappears, much in the way a species becomes extinct and leaves only a fossil record behind. Thus, the Gettysburg Address would not make a very good catchphrase. "Beat me daddy, eight to the bar!" is a passé, fossilized catchphrase that not many people would even recognize today. Some are still within recent memory but have faded into disuse, such as "We're not worthy!" and "Where's the beef?" But a hot new catchphrase puts its source of origin on everyone's lips, and TV executives even admit that they expect a hit show to generate more than one of them, thus helping the show become a popular hit. They never underestimate the power of a meme on the loose.
This process has even been parodied by TV shows themselves. The popular hit How I Met Your Mother seems to be the grand wannabe of catchphrase generation, and in one episode of The Simpsons, Bart's declaration "I didn't do it." goes through the entire life cycle of a meme in 30 minutes. Although these multiplying memes can come from any source (internet memes, such as those originating on YouTube, are proliferating daily), many of them in our culture originated with television and the movies. At the time of this writing, the latest example is a hip-hop ditty called "Pants on the Floor," which unexpectedly bloomed from American Idol.
A perusal of the Internet will reward searchers with entire lists of catchphrases form the political ("Read my lips," "There you go again," "You are no John Kennedy") to classic movies ("Frankly Scarlett, I don't give a damn," "Here's looking at you, kid," "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore"). But notably missing from the cultural literature is a list of the best catchphrases from American animation. Oh, to be sure, "D'oh!" shows up on some TV lists, but on the whole, the animated medium, with a history as long as that of cinema and television, is generally ignored. Well, then, here is a list of the most famous catchphrases in animation just for us, the subculture of animation aficionados who work in the field or just enjoy a fine cartoon. Did I get them all? Probably not, but that would just go to show how rich and deep the mine truly is. Herewith, then, is the meme of the crop:
"Ain't I a stinker?" -- Bugs Bunny
"And now here's something you'll really like!" -- Rocket J. Squirrel
"Alvin? Alvin! AAALLLVIIIN!" -- David Seville
"Arriba! Arriba! Andele, andele!" -- Speedy Gonzales
"Be vewwy, vewwy quiet! I'm huntin' wabbits!" -- Elmer Fudd
"BIIIIIRD-MAAAAAN!" -- Birdman
"But, Boris, dahling!" -- Natasha Fatale
"Come ON!" -- Stewie Griffin
"Cowabunga!" -- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
"DJ! You dirty guy!" -- Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent
"Danger is my business." -- Cool Mc Cool