Copycats everywhere


Amusing story in the UK media today concerning the arrest of Rob Smith (above) who decided to remedy the admin error surrounding the painting gold of a Royal Mail postbox to celebrate the Olympic success of Team GB yachtsman Ben Ainslie. 

It turns out that the original site selected was in Cornwall (where Ainslie grew up) but Lymington is where both men now live. 

So Smith took the brush in his own hands and copied the handiwork seen elsewhere around the country on a postbox near to Royal Lymington Yacht Club – not a tricky thing to do but the obvious response, surely.

In sadder news, I've been struck by the huge cellotaph which has grown outside the home of Tia Sharp's family (12 year old who recently went missing). Flower by flower, card by card, candle by candle & soft toy by soft toy the shrine has grown as individual neighbours follow the example of others' actions to demonstrate sympathy with the family.


I've written about this phenomenon before (not least in HERD) as something shaped by individuals copying the behaviour of others but the thing that struck me in this exaple was the emergence of the particular grammar here: candle, flowers, cards and toys (when did the toys become part of cellotaph design? I've seen a few at cemetaries and road-crossings recently but think this is a new design feature evolving through the same means). 

And in the US, news of yet another campus shooting.

We know that many things good and bad spread via the copycat effect (the Norwegian Anders Breivik not only copied the example of other mass murders but seems to have plagiarised large chunks of unabomber manifesto, too, as if to underline this). 

But don't be mistaken: copying itself is neither good or bad.

It just is and we do it all the time.