CMU School of Drama

Friday, April 21, 2017

How Six Degrees Became a Forever Meme

The New York Times: “Six Degrees of Separation” — John Guare’s play about a wealthy Manhattan couple whose lives are upended by a con artist claiming to be Sidney Poitier’s son — was the toast of the town when it had its premiere in 1990. A mere six months later, Frank Rich wrote in The New York Times that “its title has passed into the language.”

4 comments:

Julian Goldman said...

This is interesting. I’ve heard of six degrees of separation before, but I never considered looking into where it came from. It is cool to see how one idea lead to another to another to another until eventually the original idea spread enough that it became a culturally embedded concept with no obvious source. I think part of why this idea specifically might have caught on so much is that people like seeing how things connect. My first introduction to the 6 degrees of separation idea was actually a game my brother and I played using Wikipedia called “6 clicks to Jesus” where we would give eachother a start page and need to get to the article about Jesus with 6 clicks or less from page to page. It was always cool to try to find the chain from one thing to another, and I think the satisfaction of finding those chains is probably why the idea of six degrees of separation caught on.

Alexa James-Cardenas said...

First, I would like to say that I really enjoy the title of this article, mostly for the usage of the word meme, which is only said once during the article. But it kind of gives you a clue how the world “meme” is becoming part of society’s vocabulary. Anyway, I’ve actually seen a version of the play “Six Degrees” of separation, which was really good, and really sad actually. But I do find that the phrase has become sort a stand along from its play/movie counterpart, because you can talk to someone and say the phrase, and they know it, but don’t know where it comes from. Though the true origin of the phrase/concept didn’t come from the play/movie, it was responsible for putting it in the public’s attention and active vocabulary. It is also cool think about how people can use theatre for wide public education, because, at the end of the day, people do know the phrase and general concept, and that is better than not knowing at all.

Alex Talbot said...

I love most things that the New York Times produces, but there is no journalism produced by them that I love more than their reporting on memes. Nothing gets me clicking on an article more than the word "meme" in the title. That millennial and youth readership is clearly really important to the directors and heads of the newspaper. Memes aside, this article was actually quite informative and cool, and especially with the rise of Facebook and other social media platforms, this "6 degrees" concept is actually really cool. Often times, I have found this in my own life--friends of friends connected with celebrities and other figures on Facebook. With social media platforms, it makes it very easy to connect with people who aren't in your immediate circles of friends, and makes everything seem closer overall. Facebook and the internet has had a huge effect on the perceived size of the world--it has made everything so much smaller and closer.

Julien Sat-Vollhardt said...

I remember reading this play in 11th grade English class and being fascinated by that concept of the six degrees of separation. I was curious about the mechanics of it. Do you have to actually know the next degree, or do you just have to have brushed past them in the subway one day? As a philosophical mind game illustrating how close and yet how far we are from each other, it certainly makes its point, but I don't really believe that that is what the play is about. I like to kind of ignore the will smith movie because I truly feel that the staging of the play is integral to understanding the story. The very beginning of the play is marked by a rotating double Kandinsky painting, one side representing order, and one side representing chaos, and that is the point of the play. It is the struggle within ourselves of indulging our hedonistic fantasies or trying to maintain what we think is "order" and propriety in this society.

Pics from CMU Drama