Showing posts with label memes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label memes. Show all posts

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Vampires, Memeplexes and McFly

This is not one of my planned blog posts - I have some interesting things lined up to say on Shakira and on medieval research at the University of Manchester - but it came to me, and I feel compelled. Apart from being a scholar of medieval literature and contemporary popular culture, apart from being an aspiring novelist and a published poet, I am also a massive McFly fan. And I make no apologies for that.

When I heard that McFly were releasing a video featuring vampires (for the 2010 single 'Party Girl'), I was interested on two levels. One: I adore McFly. And two: I have a scholarly interest in vampires, monsters and all things strange. Given the preponderence of abstinent and sympathetic vampires in literature (and I mean here, in all literature - I am of the school of thought that sees Dracula as a break in tradition, not the tradition itself), I expected this band to appeal to the Twilight generation. I thought I would see tragic, struggling vamps, forcing themselves to endure blood pangs with a romantic fortitude. (I mean, I love McFly, but I still expected them to tap in to mainstream tastes.)

However, this is the video:

Some really interesting things occur to me in watching this video, and I think the theory of memes and memeplexes is useful here. A meme is a piece of information, which survives and flourishes through transmission, replication and mutation. The idea of the the meme was originally posited by Richard Dawkins in 1976 - before he went all fundamentalist athesist - and was understood as the cornerstone of human intelligence. Call it 'understanding', 'intelligence' or 'consciousness', it's all down to 'memes'. Furthermore, memes evolve in much the same way as genes do... they pass on through endless repetition and replication; a mutation occurs; the mutated version is then relicated. (Although, unlike genes, memes do not need a mutation to be 'beneficial' in order for the mutation to survive.) A memeplex is a complex group of memes, which exists in much the same way. Within the memeplex are a wide variety of memes, all or some of which are necessary for the overall concept to be understood. Thus, the 'vampire memeplex' is a complex 'grab bag' of ideas that exists (in some combination or another) for the concept of the 'vampire' to be understood. We might include in this aversion to garlic, aversion to sunlight, heightened sexuality, heightened sense of morality/immorality, aversion to silver, affiliations to the Victorian era, etc.

The idea of the 'memeplex' overlaps, to some extent, with the idea of 'mythos'. Additionally, issues of intertextuality are equally difficult to separate from 'memeplex'. This overlapping and intercrossing is evident in watching the McFly video. As the video starts, we see red letters on a black background, and a cross serving as the letter 't' in 'party'. This draws on both colour associations and intertextual reference to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The font of the wording should also be familiar to any pop culture vampire afficianados.

Following this, we have a series of visual referents for the vampire genre: black birds circling, a single star, a tortured male face. At 00.15 in the video, you will also notice a clear visual depiction of an eclipse (referencing Stephenie Meyer's book/movie of the same name). Next, we see a gargoyle - evidence of the use of gothic architecture in almost all vampire fiction.

The image which follows signals a diversion from the more common pop culture 'abstinent male vampire' memes. A large, red-lipped, fanged, and undoubtedly female mouth fills the screen. The mouth reminds me of Barbara Creed's association of the vampiric mouth with the mythical 'vagina dentata', and this reminds us that the focus of the song is a 'Party Girl'. The lyrics, and much of the rest of the video, concentrate on the idea of dangerous and seductive femininity. We see Harry engaging in seedy sex in a dark room, being infected and singing 'fangs out' on stage. We also have an image (at 1.30 in the video) of 'Dracula's brides' attacking the male protagonist. Words flash up on the screen to remind us of this feminine monstrousness: 'doomed', 'kill', 'kiss', 'sinks her teeth in'.

Nevertheless, there is much more to this video than simply a rehashing of the monstrousness of female sexuality. Consider, for example, the fact that the main female vamp is originally presented (at 1.03 in the video) as an apparent victim of sexual assault. Her appearance as a killer (1.17) is shadowed by the earlier image of her victimhood. Additionally, the video makes explicit reference to ideas of uncontrollable and dangerous testosterone: see 1.18 as an instance. At 1.54, there is an image of a very gentle and feminine female face, followed immediately by a further image of the 'macho' male lifting weights. Polaroid photographs suggest pornographic treatment of women. And, towards the end of the video, we see blood dripping slowly down a very phallic guitar, before the McFly boys break into another riff.

In this way, the Party Girl video presents images of out-of-control feminine sexuality/monstrosity, while always undermining them with the violence of patriarchal masculinity. This is further underlined by the ambiguity of the lyrics: "I love this little party girl/ yeah/ she likes to dance all by herself". Is this the story of the fetishization of an infantilized female? Or the empowerment of the female through monstrosity?

The McFly video plays around with pop culture references. Among them are a vamp-dusting in the style of Buffy and (my favourite) Breaking Dawn-esque flying feathers (1.33 onwards). This demonstrates the overlapping of 'memeplex' - the ideas that create our concept of 'vampire' - and intertextuality. However, what is also of interest is the apparently easy crossover between the vampire memeplex and that of the werewolf. At 1.47, Harry stands illuminated by a full moon, in the grips of an apparently painful transformation (sans shirt). At 2.43, Danny is heard to say 'Dougie - don't go into the woods!': surely, this is more reminiscent of werewolf films than vampire films?

So, what do we make of these conflicting referents in the McFly video? It could be argued that the team behind the video are simply cashing in on a slew of visual referents to mainstream pop culture texts. Nevertheless, I would suggest that this video, in fact, reveals how use of a 'grab bag' mythos - or memeplex - along with a 'postmodern' sense of intertextuality, creates twenty-first-century cultural products. All contemporary vampiric texts have one eye backwards and one eye sideways... McFly are simply utilizing this to encourage downloads. The complexity of the references in this particular video, along with the ambiguity of the lyrics, is one of the main reasons why I am not ashamed to describe myself as a McFly Fangirl and Proud. I love pop culture in all its bizarre forms and complexities.

And in case you think that the vampiric context of this latest video is simply a cash-in on recent pop culture trends, have a look at the video for McFly's 2007 single 'Transylvania'. I know I've admitted I'm a fangirl - but even the most anti-McFly amongst you will be hard-pressed not to love such a beautifully absurist mash-up of vampire memeplex, WWI imagery, fin-de-siecle extravagance, cross-dressing, Nosferatu and 'Bohemian Rhapsody' reference. And it begins with a sample for Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor'. Enjoy...

And here's a lovely presentation of zombie imagery with reference to the 'Thriller' vid (and a nice little intertextual reference to the film that gave the band their name - released the very year guitarist/vocalist Tom Fletcher was born):