The Circle Game

31 December 2011

A happy and peaceful new year to all our readers.


The blogosphere is aflame with reports of the Pardon Me phenomenon. So much so, that there’s really no point in writing about it.

(But in case it has passed you by, it started with the appearance on YouTube of this wonderful video of ‘Pardon Me — an instant classic’ sung by Maxine Swaby, a song that’s so catchy that after one listen, you’ll never get it out of your head. You have been warned:

Suffice to say the story doesn’t end here. Someone made a video of themselves singing along, and of course copying Maxine’s classic hand movements.

Then someone else made a video of themselves singing along with that video…and you get the picture. It was only a matter of time before someone combined the unusual theme of recursion with YouTube’s ubiquitous leitmotif of a cute furry animal.

)…but there is some point in writing about writing about it:

The story of the Pardon Me Movement has been covered by Boing Boing and well documented by BuzzFeed where you can see more videos. And someone’s made a  graphic of the chain of succession represented as a tree.

The "Pardon me" Recursion Tree by Arnþór Snær.

What does this all mean, or indeed meme? A commentor on Boing Boing asked for them to stop referring to stuff as ‘internet memes’ as Boing Boing calling anything an “internet meme” is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Personally I’m rather with the philosopher Mary Midgley on memes. What is a meme anyway? Is  ‘meme’ a meme?

I think what the Pardon Me thing shows is the magical power of recursion as a means of creating community, particularly when it takes the form of a song. Repetitive songs, choruses and best of all, rounds are effective ways of getting you to join in, making people feel part of something bigger than themselves, participating in a collective. It doesn’t much matter what you sing about, bears climbing over mountains, rowing (and rowing and rowing) boats, historic conflagrations in England’s capital city, you can even sing about recursion .

But to return  to Pardon Me! again, if there was a prize for the most original repetition of the recusion, it would have to go to….