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MEME
Are Images Our Best Hope
of Changing the World?

This is the first of what I hope to be monthly ruminations on whatever topic strikes me or comes to the surface via this website from readers to form a conversation. The inaugural topic is 'meme' (rhymes with dream, conveniently for us visual, associational types). Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene is usually credited with coining the term. He defines it as "..a unit of cultural transmission". Memes can be slogans, catch phrases, icons, which are replicable and easily passed from person to person or mind-to-mind. If you Google 'meme' you get over twenty million hits. Some folks think memes are really like genes and are looking for a biochemical basis of cultural transmission. Others see memes as a cultural virus that undermines our ability to focus on more important things. I wonder if memes are a way for artists to participate in creating the culture we'd like to see in a more active way.

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I've been having an experience recently with the meme "Energy Tsunami". My friend Wendy, artist, art therapist and energy worker, with whom I hold weekly discussions about all things cosmic and metaphysical, had been told by another friend that an "energy wave, a sort of light or energetic tsunami" was due to move through consciousness at the end of June or beginning of July. We had no scientific, astrological, rational or metaphysical reason to take this seriously, but it piqued our imaginations. Sounds kind of cool. Or sounds kind of scary. I found out when mentioning the idea to others that most folks associated the word 'tsunami' with death and destruction, nature out of balance, terror and fear. That isn't surprising since the recent tsunami in Indonesia, the most powerful seismic event in forty years, is still somewhat fresh in everyone's mind.

No one I mentioned this idea to had any direct connection or first hand experience with the Indonesian tsunami or any other such event. Clearly the media reports were enough to plant fear.

What surprised me was my own reaction. Why did I find the idea of an energy tsunami welcome, positive and exciting? I saw the same news; in fact I worked with images about the Indonesian tsunami in a video I made last winter. On top of that, as a child I had a recurring dream about a tsunami (I didn't know that word, I called it a tidal wave). In the dream, I'd be walking along a beach and hear a rushing sound, turn around (too late) and see an enormous wave cresting over my head about to crash. Through my art and Jungian analysis I have done extensive work with this image but while that work may have neutralized the fear I felt for years, how did the image become positive for me?

comes to shake things up
comes to shake things up

Then I remembered that my daughter Adina had painted an image of what turned out to be an 'energy' or 'light' tsunami last winter when we worked together in my studio. Through witnessing the image Adina learned that she would be cleansed and renewed by this wave, not destroyed. She described the person as seeming to 'orchestrate' the wave. This was the detail that spoke to me: we are perhaps co-creators interacting with forces of light and energy that move through us. This explained why I welcomed the image. I had lived and worked with Adina's image and its message superseded other cultural messages for me.

So here's the question: Can we use images and our witness to them to transform culture?

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