Mimetic Monday: February 8, 2021


Hi everyone,

Here is this week’s Mimetic Monday: the art, people, and news that inspire imitation—for better or for worse.

  • 👉👈  Mimetic Alert. Yesterday was Superbowl Sunday. One of the most overtly mimetic commercials last night was this Wayne’s World-inspired ad with Cardi B by Uber Eats, encouraging people to #buylocal. Wayne and Garth say at the outset that “we’d never manipulate you the way these other commercials do.” Immediately after saying this, they make cheesy attempts at manipulation—doing everything from holding up baby versions of themselves to showing the uber-cool rapper Cardi B jamming out with them. It’s a commercial making fun of commercials. David Foster Wallace describes how we get here and the dangers of this kind of irony in his 1993 essay E Unibus Pluram. These types of ads have been around for a long time, but they’re growing even more self-referential. The level of irony is a sign of severe cultural decline and decadence—a society that can only make fun of itself and no longer seems to care about evolving, about being better. And the irony works: the typical viewer sees this commercial and laughs, thinking to themselves that they’ve “transcended the masses” and aren’t subject to manipulation. But they are more likely to use Uber Eats. Uber knows what every con man knows: the moment when people are most comfortable is the moment when they are most easily seduced.


  • ⬆️ What I’m reading. I’ve been reading Adam Grant’s new book Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know. The most fascinating part to me is Chapter 8: “Charged Conversations—Depolarizing Our Divided Discussions.” Adam draws on research from the Difficult Conversations Lab at Columbia University. If you visit the lab, you’ll be paired with a stranger who strongly disagrees with you about a highly divisive issue. You’ll have 20 minutes to discuss it. Then you’ll have to decide whether or not you’ve reached the point where you can draft a joint statement about your shared views. The data is stunning. People who are given different articles to read prior to their conversation have different conversations. For example: if people are given a black/white binary article on gun control prior to having a discussion about abortion, they approach their conversation in a completely different way than they would if they read a more nuanced article. Think Again has caused me to pause and reflect seriously on the kind of news that I’m consuming and how it impacts the conversations I have. If you’d like to delve further into some of Adam’s ideas, I weave my own work in Girard’s mimetic theory with Adam’s research into “Maximizers” and “Satisficers” in this new article, about the mimetic dynamics of dating (“What People Are Really Doing When They Play Hard to Get“).


  • 🧐 What I’m Investigating. I’ve been exploring the role of game-playing in education. I believe the rise of gaming is one signal that we may be about to witness the gamification of the education system in the long-run. I’m enjoying Jane McGonigal’s book, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World (thanks to Jon Bachura for that recommendation)—and also playing a couple of amazing board games these past few months: Watergate (on the Nixon scandal) and Imperial Struggle (I’ve learned more about 17th-century history from this game in a few weeks than all of my history classes combined—and had fun doing it.) Here’s the line from McGonigal’s book that has haunted me for the past month: “Gamers want to know: Where, in the real world, is that gamer sense of being fully alive, focused, and engaged in every moment? Where is the gamer feeling of power, heroic purpose, and community? Where are the bursts of exhilarating and creative game accomplishment? Where is the heart-expanding thrill of success and team victory?”


Have a wonderful week, everyone—

Comments or questions? You can send me a tweet @lukeburgis (adding #mimeticmonday helps me find it). Text “mimetic monday” to (+1) 202-918-3743 to get text alerts about Mimetic Mondays via your phone and stay in touch with me directly via text.



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