This story takes what happens to a brain on memes to an extreme (if absurd) conclusion. (To get the most out of the story, one needs to understand “meme” in the sense Richard Dawkins coined the term. Not just as a popular image one sees repeatedly on social media, but as any cultural artifact (image, idea, symbol, fashion, etc.) that behaves in a manner analogous to a gene – spreading, mutating, etc.)
In the story, a meme (featuring a sloth) goes viral. All is benign, at first. People are spending far too much time blankly staring at the meme because it engenders a euphoric feeling, but that doesn’t seem so bad (and — quite frankly – it’s not much different from how people engage with social media and online games in real life.) Then, like a time-release bomb in the brain, something is triggered and people start bleeding from their eyes, screaming, and engaging in Zombie-like behavior. [Except, as befitting a story about memes, the mindless activity of these “zombies” is designed to perpetuate the meme — rather than the eating of brains.]
The story plays out in two interwoven arcs. At the center of each arc is an individual who is – at least at first – immune to the meme by way of a “disability.” One story features a college kid who is color-blind, and the other a retired Colonel who is visually impaired so he can only see vague shapes (i.e. either glaucoma or cataracts.) The college kid’s story is the more human-interest piece, with him just trying to survive the apocalyptic world when he feels challenged enough by his usual world. The Colonel leads a team to try to defeat the meme by tracking its author.
In one sense, the perfect power of this meme and its ability to mutate to more effectively spread itself may feel ridiculous. However, without spoiling the story, I will say the author does offer a kind of explanation that may help quell the mental rejection. I’ll leave the reader to determine whether they think it helps or not. But, more importantly, I think it’s a story that knows it’s venturing into preposterous territory, and that’s kind of the point. We don’t necessarily see the freakish way we respond to memes and the online world, and so this story blows the problem up to absurd scale to make the reader more aware. [It’s also fun.]
I delighted in “Memetic.” I found the concept thought-provoking and the telling entertaining. It’s not just a concept, it offers a strong story. I’d highly recommend this graphic novel for those who find themselves aware of, and disconcerted by, how many people in their immediate environment are entranced by their phones.