didja hear didja hear didja hear

There should be a word for news items which you know, the moment you see them, will be all over your LiveJournal and blogroll and feeds for the next 48-72 hours and will then become part of the permanent library of events referred to in these media.

Not “meme” but something that is more specifically limited to stories reported in mass media. Examples have varied in real-world importance from gigantic world-changing disasters or triumphs of good over evil down to pointless “oddly enough,” but there’s some characteristic quality that I can’t identify here that makes me say “well, I’ll be seeing this shit on my friends page for a while now” when I see it.

My guess at the moment is that certain stories flick a switch that makes us say “I must tell others about this and talk about it” that is independent of any judgment about the importance of the story or the likelihood that you’ll be the first to tell anyone about it. I bet if they ever localize this thing in the brain it’ll be in the same nerve bundle as whatever makes us talk about the weather.

The item that sparked this line of thought was of course today’s death of a minor celebrity, which is almost entirely at the trivial end of the scale, only escaping the “oddly enough” silliness because it involves one actual death of a human.

17 thoughts on “didja hear didja hear didja hear

      1. I almost posted about it, but I had to go.
        I’m amused he was not killed by a crocodile. That he was killed by a terrible animal attack while filming one of his trademark risky nature docs was simply to be expected.

      2. On a tangent I am surprised at people who are surprised and shocked about “friendly fire.” It’s on a long list of things I call “That’s what you signed up for when you agreed to have a war.”

      3. Yeah I’ve never quite understood that either. I mean, even with perfect communication and no enemies around, playing with explosives is dangerous business.
        I guess there are more parallels than I’d like between Irwin and a soldier killed in battle — they both presumably know what they are getting into and fairly delibrately poke at the Beast with a stick and deal with the consequences. The big difference is that this poor sod has no name, probably never saw it coming, and at no time collected a fat cheque for mugging at the camera and shouting, “Crikey!” just as the Afghani car bomb goes off.

  1. I admit that I was a little sad, but only because it reminds me of my own motality. Like, Oh NO that guy who I expected to see die when I was 50 is dead now, YIKES.
    Of course I feel no need to report the news on my journal. I just assume that my friends read the news once a day.

  2. FYI, Steve Irwin’s death is front page news here in Vanuatu. It should be noted of course that more people showed up to see him ‘repatriate’ a 3.6m crocodile than came to see the Archbishop of Canterbury.
    I won’t be surprised at all if the ‘no swimswim wetem crocodile‘ sign in Vanua Lava is the site of a minor shrine as a result.

    1. It should be noted of course that more people showed up to see him ‘repatriate’ a 3.6m crocodile than came to see the Archbishop of Canterbury.
      How is that a bad thing?

  3. I think the phenomenon you’re referring to here is related to the mammalian grooming urge, no joke. In rats, friendly grooming strengthens the bond between the specific animals participating, but it also emphasizes that those two animals both belong to the same larger social group. It says both “I specifically accept you specifically” and “You are part of my pack.” I think people often use information this way, as a tool for reinforcing commonality. By talking about the weather, or the death of a minor celebrity, or who was kissing whom at the Christmas party, you’re both establishing a connection with a specific other person and establishing a connection between both of you and the pack. The point isn’t to disseminate information, it’s to make sure that everyone in the pack has the same odor, or, in human terms, the same understanding of our shared experience.
    I hereby propose that a piece of information used as a tool for social grooming be referred to as a “greme.”

  4. Eyeteeth’s remarks are fascinating, and I really like the word “greme”.
    But after mulling over variations on the word “cluster”, I’ve got it: “clump dump”.

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