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Monday, October 20, 2014

Do You Remember Dinosaurs? (A Fun Sidenote on Memetics)

Dinosaurs was on air when I was in preschool, and Dad just loved it.  That's what I'd started to call him, "Dad" instead of "Daddy".  My oldest brother was home from college and wouldn't play along with calling him "Daddy" anymore.  (Can you blame him?)

When I asked my brother why he called Daddy that, he said "Daddy" was ok for a little kid but he's grown up, so he calls Daddy "Dad".  I thought, "I'm not little!"  So I started calling Daddy "Dad" and Mommy "Mom".

Dad liked Dinosaurs because it was about an average working guy with a well-educated, liberal wife, two teenagers and a baby and of course, the grandma.  We were a multigenerational family too. 

I just loved the show!  It looked almost like Sesame Street, only with a lot of Oscar the Grouches and all the big people watched it.  I wanted to be big too!  So every time Dad watched Dinosaurs I'd go into the living room. 

Pretty soon the predictable happened.   After all, I was the baby of the family and the star attraction of the show was: Baby.  I started picking up on Baby's bad habits like doing something mildly destructive then saying "I'm the baby, gotta love me!"

There was a girl sitting next to my second brother on the couch.  She had blond hair and a nice smile.  I stood in front of them, leaned into my brother and said, "So, are you gonna kiss her?"  He turned beet red and made a quick exit.  Maybe she was a baby sitter?  Who knows. 

Long story short my bed time was moved to half an hour earlier & I started sneaking downstairs to watch Dinosaurs from the stairwell.  Mom or Grandma would catch me and send me back to bed.  And so the narrative was created and stuck, that Dinosaurs was something for big people that I was not allowed to have yet. 

So, when I started school and the teacher asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I didn't say a princess or a firefighter, I said "Dinosaurs.  I want to watch Dinosaurs!"  And that was my introduction to paleontology and all those cool dino names and dreaming of excavations in our backyard to resurrect the bones and bring the characters to life.  By the time  I was in first grade, the idea of the TV show had melted away but the love-affair with everything prehistoric was hopelessly implanted forever in my brain.  It helped me fall in love with time travel stories and creative writing, Einstein, Geoscience and the theory of natural selection. 

Morals of the story: 

Memes start implanting in our brains at the start of language acquisition, long before rational thought processes develop. 

Ideas grow, scaffolding onto existing ones, melding in complex ways even in extremely young brains.

Never assume someone is too young or too uninformed to take an interest in your subject, assume you're teaching it wrong. 

For memeticists and other scholars: Don't look down your nose at the artists and comedians.  They are your allies: they can reach audiences you will not. 

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