Following a relatively sober address on evolutionary theory, Richard Dawkins’ Hawaiian-shirt-clad torso dissolves slowly to leave a floating head, repeating the phrase “mutation in the mind” to an increasing electro beat.
Yet instead this bizarre scene was merely part of the launch of the annual Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors’ Showcase at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, this year wrapped around the theme of the power of the internet and its influence on contemporary culture.
At the event on 20 June, entitled “Just for Hits”, the emeritus fellow of New College, Oxford, entered the stage to talk from behind a podium on the subject of memes – a word he coined in the 1976 bestseller The Selfish Gene.
Akin to genes propagating through nature by natural selection, memes are concepts that spread through human culture by being good at getting themselves copied “from brain to brain or blog to blog”, Professor Dawkins explained. Internet memes hijack this idea by being deliberated altered rather than randomly mutating, he said.
After almost five minutes, Professor Dawkins’ speech transmuted abruptly into an auto-tuned song with the performance continuing on a giant triptych of screens as the evolutionary biologist walked off stage.
Designed to illustrate Professor Dawkins’ theory of memes and the internet, the rest of the extravaganza included psychedelic images set to an electronic backing track, as well as flying hotdogs, cats and brains, interspersed with Professor Dawkins’ words, sometimes emanating from a disconnected head.
The scene ends following a reprieve for Professor Dawkins, coming back on stage, in the halo of a spotlight, playing an “electronic wind instrument”.
Writing on Twitter, Professor Dawkins said: “My psychedelic Meme vid and e-trumpet-playing getting a mixed reception, to say the least.”
As a “visual and oral extravaganza featuring a very unexpected guest”, the event was billed as an attempt to trump the spectacle of last year’s launch - “Meet Your Creator” - which featured 16 flying robots.