The Deerstalker - No Explanation Needed
Memes are ideas, behaviors, or styles that spread from person to person within a culture. In a way they signify the evolution of culture. Genes transmit biological information, whereas memes transmit ideas, and information about belief. The meme is a unit for carrying out cultural ideas which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other phenomena. Memes are the cultural analogues to genes because the self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective pressures.
Memes can be selected for over many years through religion and ritual:
(Wiccan symbol of protection)
Internet phenomena can arise overnight and take over:
A single character can become iconic:
…and sometimes all it takes is one piece of clothing to confer meaning.
(The Great Mouse Detective) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fj4Kx_JXzAg
The deerstalker cap is all it takes to indicate the reference to Sherlock Holmes in all of the previous images and video. Whether the hat is put on an M&M, a stuffed toy, or a cartoon character, the meme refers us to a cultural phenomenon that is well known. One does not have to have read any Sherlock Holmes stories or have seen any of the films. Sherlock Holmes has become an icon to the point that only his signature hat must be shown and it the reference is clear. The hat itself is the symbol for Holmes. The “Holmes” in question is not the actual character, but the concept that he represents. For example, in The Great Mouse Detective, it is clear that the mouse wearing the hat is the most brilliant detective in the cartoon. The Holmes concept involves a logical, yet eccentric mind, and a larger than life character that is valuable to society as a whole.
The deerstalker itself and the accompany props it is usually paired with (the Inverness cape, magnifying glass and curved pipe) are extremely good examples of memes. They were spread culturally, generated by a couple of references made from an illustration and from one stage production. Sherlock Holmes did not wear a deerstalker cap in the stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. One of the original illustrations in the Strand Magazine depicted him wearing one in the countryside. William Gillette, the actor and playwright who portrayed Holmes on stage liked the look and decided to model his costume after that. This caught on in society, because soon Basil Rathbone picked it up and made it popular in his movies. From then on it was a cultural phenomenon that needed no explanation.
Dennett, Daniel C. Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. New York: Simon and Schuster 1995.