“We didn’t need superheroes, we had dialogue:” Memes, morphic fields and memorable movie lines

Author: William Michael Winter

Winter, William Michael, 2017 “We didn’t need superheroes, we had dialogue:” Memes, morphic fields and memorable movie lines, Flinders University, School of Humanities and Creative Arts

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What is it about some words and phrases that enable their entry into popular culture? If that question can be answered, then can that information be useful to the field of communication studies? There is scattered and disparate information, disciplines, research and theory that can enable the answer to these questions. This thesis aligns these disparate approaches and paradigms. In this thesis, I investigate the structures of popular textual memes and memorable movie lines. I examine current and past literature on memes, with a focus on the qualities theorized to be useful in producing success and popularity. Yet my research does not remain nested in this literature. I also investigate morphic fields, as theorized by British biologist Rupert Sheldrake, and I apply his theories to a study of how memes and movie lines are removed from their context in their originating text and resonate in diverse contexts. As examples of texts that have become popular over the years, I examine some of the best-known movie lines, focusing primarily on those from Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, and The Wizard of Oz. I discuss the (limited) literature on film dialogue and then apply studies of textual memes to selected lines of movie dialogue that have become especially well-known and used in everyday conversation.

My intent with this thesis was not to become the expert on memes, on morphic fields, or on screenwriting. What I have investigated is the intersection of memes, movies and morphic fields as seen through the most memorable lines in Hollywood cinema. This thesis probes the meme/movie dialogue nexus, and what occurs in the overlap between memes, morphic fields, and movie dialogue. My desire is to understand how and why movie lines remain memorable and circulate in popular discourse.

This research project is the first to inquire into the relationship between memes, morphic fields, and memorable movie lines. Using an integrated literature review approach and unobtrusive research methods, I reshape the scholarship on memes. My research also sheds new light on the structures of successful textual memes and movie lines, applying Sheldrake’s morphic field theory to other non-biological areas including memes, movies, movie lines, and even movie theatres; and on so-called movie “misquotes.”

The original contribution to knowledge offered by this thesis is to provide an innovative, interdisciplinary and unusual approach to understanding why some film lines gain traction, momentum and a place in popular culture. To enact this study, I offer three steps to research and map this memorability: memes, morphic fields and an historical analysis of filmic dialogue. This doctoral research aligns these three approaches to offer strategies for scholars in communication studies, media studies, film studies, screen studies and cultural studies to understand how dialogue becomes memorable.

Keywords: Meme, movie lines, popular memory, film dialogue, film studies, screen studies

Subject: Humanities thesis, Creative Arts thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2017
School: School of Humanities and Creative Arts
Supervisor: Tara Brabazon