TRUTH IS A VIRUS
Meme Warfare and the Billionaires for Bush (or Gore)
by Andrew Boyd
When I first saw this phrase, defiantly spray-painted on the walls of a suburban high-school, it thrilled me. So what if it was only a fantasy image in a Hollywood movie (Pump up the Volume, the Christian Slater film about a pirate radio station)? It was infectious. As a political activist, it made immediate, intuitive sense; it became my mantra. I want to infect the body politic. I want to unleash a viral epidemic of truth. Eventually this desire, taking shape in fits and starts, became my calling, guiding my strange "career" in culture jamming and guerrilla media provocations. I soon came to see, however, that lies are also viruses. Lies and myth and kitsch and advertising jingles and corporate logos and mood rings and the idea that free trade is free--all of these are viruses. I came to think of the matrix of hearts and minds and media as a vast theater of viral warfare. In his book Media Virus!, Douglas Rushkoff describes it like this:
"Media viruses spread through the datasphere the same way biological ones spread through the body or a community. But instead of traveling along an organic circulatory system, a media virus travels through the networks of the mediascape. The 'protein shell' of a media virus might be an event, invention, technology, system of thought, musical riff, visual image, scientific theory, sex scandal, clothing style, or even a pop hero-as long as it can catch our attention. Any one of these media virus shells will search out the receptive nooks and crannies in popular culture and stick on anywhere it is noticed. Once attached, the virus injects its more hidden agendas into the datastream in the form of ideological code-not genes but a conceptual equivalent we now call 'memes.' Like real genetic material, these memes infiltrate the way we do business, educate ourselves, interact with one another-even the way we perceive 'reality.'" (1)
Rushkoff's exploration of "memes" fascinated me. But rather than viruses of clothing styles and pop heroes, I was interested in viruses of political ideas and action. For several years, as "Minister of Culture" for the social justice group United for a Fair Economy (UFE), I experimented with various media viruses, taking on issues of taxation, sweatshops, wage inequality, and corporate welfare. In the Spring of 2000 we developed a very virulent strain: Billionaires for Bush (or Gore).
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