Lance, Manti, and memes

I love memes. You know, those ridiculous photos with some funny tagline on them that randomly become viral and sweep their way through the internet via email and Facebook.

But memes aren’t just photos. The word comes from the Greek mimeme, which means “something imitated.” Apparently (according to Wikipedia), Richard Dawkins coined the term in the 1970s. That’s the one thing I hate about memes. Richard Dawkins is a complete fool; what’s worse, is he thinks he’s brilliant.

A meme is something that is imitated across a culture – sort of an evolving theme. And our cultural meme right now seems to be TELLING LIES.

So I made an “internet meme” for this.

Oh the tangled webs we weave...

Oh the tangled webs we weave…

I don’t believe in coincidence. And I don’t believe in evolution – not in the way Richard Dawkins does. Dawkins believes there is no God, but that evolutionary forces of the world drive history… or some such brainless nonsense.

And because I don’t believe in coincidence, I don’t believe it is a coincidence that two separate stories have come to fruition in the last week, both of which have placed public figures in the context of lies.

If you’re unacquainted with these stories, here’s a one-sentence summary: Lance Armstrong admitted to doping after denying it for years, and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o has revealed he was the subject of an elaborate hoax where he had a long-distance “girlfriend” who turned out to be fake and who “died” last year, causing him significant grief (Sports Illustrated covered the “death,” painting it into Te’o’s struggle to obtain victory with the Fightin’ Irish and the Heisman Trophy).

I wonder, then, what could history’s guiding Hand be teaching us, in light of these very public lies? I won’t claim to know for sure; but I’ll venture a couple of educated guesses.

  • We’re all Lances and Mantis (or should it be Manties?)

It’s commonly thought that the reason many of us obsess over celebrities is because we see in them our own faults (and perhaps some of our better parts, too), magnified. Most of us have found ourselves, like Lindsay Lohan, caught in a self-destructive pattern of behavior. Most of us have, like Michael Jackson, loathed some particular physical feature we possess. Most of us, like Lance, have made a poor decision and opted to lie about it rather than tell the truth. And most of us, like Manti (as far as we know), have been the victim of a lie. That hurts. Deception is a universal human practice. Which brings me to my next thought…

  • We all have a certain disdain for Lances and Mantis

Lance’s confession evoked a mixture of disappointment and relief for those following his story. But I think the enduring flavor of his career will be bitterness. He lied to us! Repeatedly! And he smeared the reputation of other athletes who told the truth about him. No one can honor behavior like that.

Manti’s situation – and we’ll assume he had nothing to do with the hoax – is profoundly sad and hurtful. And though we hesitate to blame the poor guy, what lingers in the back of our minds is, “I don’t think I would have let that happen to me.” We can’t understand why he would not become suspicious, or at least a little curious, in an age of Internet scams, when his long-distance girlfriend never once showed up to their planned meetings, and did not utilize the video function when they Skyped.

I’m just going to stop there.

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