Mimes and memes

Cristian Ispir
2 min readDec 13, 2023

Although everyone of us is encouraged to live authentically and genuinely, according to his or her autos, from the Greek for self, and according to his or her genuinus, from the Latin for innate, we develop our style in imitation, directly or indirectly, of others. There is no absolute autos, no irrevocable genuinus. We are all others whom we choose to take as examples or counter-examples. The hell of individuality is other people.

From Ancient Greek theatre to the Italian Commedia dell’Arte of the 17th century and then to Marcel Marceau of the 1900s, mime evolved into an art form, without ceasing to convey a fundamental truth: the self is a mirror to others who mirror it. The enduring seduction of mimetic performance is its ability to explore the difficult spectrum of the human predicament without losing its anchoring in physicality. We instantly connect with mime because we have all been there.

Memes, on the other hand, claim a similar mimetic heritage, but are disembodied attempts to perform the same task as mimes. They are no less powerful, but by nature of their isolated and decontextualised character, they abandon themselves to humor and satire. Their scope is limited, though their sprawling effect is by no means reduced. And most of all, they are presumptuous, seeking to outreach themselves in commentaries that they themselves disavow. On the edge of speech or sound, they claim to encapsulate and extrapolate, but most often they simply entertain, and hover around from mouth to mouth without hope of enlightenment.