Richard Dawkins coined the word "meme" in his 1976 bestsellerThe Selfish Gene. The word -- which is ascribed to an idea, behaviour or style that spreads from person to person within a culture -- has since been reappropriated by the internet, with Grumpy Cat,Socially-Awkward Penguin and Overly-Attached Girlfriend spreading virally, leaping from IP address to IP address (and brain to brain) via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation.
In recognition of this facet, advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi has recruited Dawkins to participate in the theatrical piece alongside installation artists Marshmallow Laser Feast. The aim is, presumably, to create a piece of content that will itself become a meme, as happened with last year's performance involving 16 flying robots. Within the piece, Dawkins explains how an "internet meme" is a hijacking of the original idea and that instead of mutating by random change and spreading by a form of Darwinian selection, they are altered deliberately by human creativity. Unlike with genes (and Dawkins' original meaning of "meme"), there is no attempt at accuracy of copying; internet memes are deliberately altered.
In advance of this extraordinary performance, Wired.co.uk caught up with Dawkins to talk about his own favourite internet memes, Twitter, molecular genetics, false memories and, er..., Celebrity Big Brother.
Wired.co.uk: How did you get involved in the New Directors Showcase?
Richard Dawkins: I was approached by Saatchi & Saatchi, who had this idea of centring the event around the theme of memes, so they asked if I would get involved and I was rather pleased with the idea.
I hear you are going to be playing a musical instrument on stage...
I might be playing the EWI (pronounced e-wee), which is an electronic clarinet. I used to play the clarinet and saxophone and I find the new electronic version rather appealing. It not only plays the sound of the clarinet and saxophone; it also does the trumpet, cello, violin, tuba, sousaphone and the oboe etcetera.