Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Meme Virus

Does anyone else remember slam books, those notebooks in which you asked all your friends and family members questions like “What’s your favorite color?” and “Who’s the love of your life?” Those with whom you had bequeathed the privilege of responding to your nosiness would choose a number to represent themselves when answering your questions. You’d, of course, memorized the fact that your best friend (whose answers were uncannily just like yours) was number five, and the boy you now hated, because he had not said you were the love of his life, was number twelve.

When I was in sixth grade, I was Miss Slam Book. Never one to do things (other than sports, that is) in a half-assed way, I wanted to have the best slam book ever. It had to have a pretty cover. It had to be heavily decorated with cute cartoon characters. It had to ask more questions than anybody else’s and to have so many respondents people would have trouble finding room on the pages for their answers. And the questions themselves? Well, they had to be something special, too. Not deterred by friends who would tell me, “You have to ask how old they are,” and “You can’t have a slam book that doesn’t ask for favorite colors,” I decided my slam books would not follow form (well, not completely. I’d pad them with the standard questions, because I was always easily bossed around by friends, but I’d still do it my way by keeping my questions in as well). After all, we already knew how old everyone in the class was. We also, having been in school together for years, knew everyone’s favorite color. My slam book could have been used as “Example A” in human resources departments for what you can’t ask job interviewees: “Are you a Democrat or a Republican?” (As if 12-year-olds could vote.) “Do you get along with or fight with your brothers and sisters?”

In the late 1980s, someone came up with the idea (wish it had been I, as I’d have long since retired to Maine on that obvious cash cow) of morphing the sixth-grade slam book into The Book of Questions. This was a pseudo-psychological effort to get people to ask each other questions meant to reveal their inner selves. You see, it was the eighties; the sixties were ancient history, so we’d all obviously forgotten how to reach in and explore our psyches. We needed a book to ask us such things as, “If you could be a multimillionaire but would never be allowed to return to your country of birth, would you choose to be one?” I had many more questions than answers for this book: how had I managed to get into this predicament in which I was the only human alive who had the knowledge that the world was going to end tomorrow? How, exactly, were each of my family members going to die if I chose to forfeit their lives in order to be beautiful and forever young? Despite its stupidity, the book held a certain sort of fascination for me (probably because it once again gave me permission to be extremely nosy).

I thought I’d become immune to this slam-book-loving infection until recently when the “One Book Meme” started drifting around out there in the blogosphere. The meme virus is obviously a new and very virulent form of the old infection. I’m hoping someone will create a vaccine soon, because the germs are multiplying on my kitchen counter, attaching themselves to my eating utensils, and creating food questions to pose to others. Someone’s been coughing and sneezing them on the CD and DVD shelves at my local library. People who don’t even know they’re contagious yet are shaking hands with me when they run into me at Broadway shows.

So, here’s my first attempt to purge myself of it. (Litlove has been infected, too, and is promising to come out to play as soon as she’s well enough, but I’m sure hers will be a lovely and very rare form of the disease -- the one that’s reclining on the chaise longue, feverish cheeks glowing and adding a certain beauty to it all, the one that teeters on the brink of death, ultimately resulting in great wisdom after recovery. Mine’s the one you picked up on the airplane from New York to San Francisco that kept you bedridden throughout your entire vacation, wishing you were dead and knowing full well it wasn't going to kill you). It may not be the most original, but I can promise you one thing: no questions that involve desert islands.


(Rule: yes only one. I was tortured by the one book meme and want my revenge.)

1) The first movie you remember seeing on the big screen.
Lady and the Tramp. My sisters tell me it wasn’t the first, but it’s the one I remember. I hated those Siamese cats, who stuck out in my mind for years.

2) Movie from which you can quote multiple lines in your sleep.
The Wizard of Oz, like everyone else who saw it every year of his or her life from the age of about four to eighteen or so.

3) Director (dead or alive) with whom you’d most like to have dinner.
Jonathan Demme. I’d say Stanley Kubrik, but I worship him too much, and fainting in his presence would probably ruin the dinner.

4) Movie that should have won an Oscar but didn’t.
Everything that was up against Gladiator that year.

5) Movie that didn't disappoint despite being an adaptation of a book.
Sweet Hereafter. I was blown away by this book when I read it, and the book was still better than the movie, but the movie was damn good.

6) Movie you were dragged to by someone else expecting to hate but loved.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. So much so, that a few weeks later, when we went to see Traffic at the same cinema complex, I snuck in and watched some of it again.

7) Movie that still scares the crap out of you no matter how many times you see it.
The Exorcist. And I have to do all kinds of things to keep from thinking about it when I'm alone. This helps tremendously.

8) Movie that still makes you bawl, no matter how many times you see it.
The Champ (both versions)

9) Movie that still has you rolling around on the floor with laughter no matter how many times you’ve seen it.
I’m breaking my own “one rule” here with a 3-way tie:
The Gods Must Be Crazy
There’s Something About Mary

10) Now, I'm still eager to completely fill my slam book pages, so no small numbers being tagged here. If I’ve ever commented on your blog, consider yourself tagged for this one. All family members and friends are also tagged.


Rebecca H. said...

Great meme! I'm going to be rebellious, though, and not catch the virus -- I'm just not enough of a movie person to have answers for all these. Yes, I'm an extremely poor sport, and I hope you'll forgive me! Memes make me anxious, and movie memes especially, so I'm claiming the benefits of my ruddy health on this one. I can't wait to hear what others say though!

Emily Barton said...

Oh, could you please give me the name of the doctor who's given you the vaccine? Don't worry, I won't hold it against you. Believe me,as it seems with everything else in life, I really know absolutely nothing about movies compared to most and am terrified someone might say to me, "How could you possibly have chosen x? Have you never seen y?"

litlove said...

Great post, Emily and a wonderful meme. I'll be having a go at it (but then you knew that, didn't you!). I'm so glad you linked to me because you'd disappeared into a fold of cyberspace again, and now I should be able to catch up!!

Emily Barton said...

Litlove, can't wait to see your answers.

Anonymous said...

What a truly great post...and the comparison to litlove had me laughing out loud, in my office! I'll post on this on my lunch break today. And I think we really are living parallel lives - I remember the Slam Books, and the comparison between those and the meme infection is perfect! I also remember the game where you made tons of lists (3 boys to marry, 3 jobs you'd have, etc) and then drew a long spiral, counted the spirals and used that number to eliminate all of the options except one per category until you had your future 'life' planned...

Emily Barton said...

Courtney, can't wait to see your responses, either. I'd forgotten all about that "choosing your future" game until I read this, and only vaguely remember how it was done. It's coming back to me, though.
Oh, and glad I made you laugh.

Anonymous said...

What a good idea -- I love thinking about movies. Trouble is, I can't remember titles. (The one where the cowboys all fart around the fire is the sort of thing I'd be saying, except somebody told me the name the other day). Still, I'll be giving this a try, maybe with some in-house assistance.