Thursday, December 18, 2008

in ur paradime, stealin ur idiomz: A Brief Defense of Lolcats

The Laugh-Out-Loud Cat, or "Lolcat," phenomenon, officially began in 2005 on the 4chan imageboard but its influences could be traced back to early 20th Century photography [1]. In a typical lolcat image, a picture of a cat is paired with a caption that is usually imitative of Internet parlance [2]. Inherent in the popularity of these images is both ironic review of the culture and medium in which it participates, what I will call the "world of computers," and unironic embracement of the natural world and its creatures--not only cats, but sometimes dogs and parakeets.

It is perhaps worth noting that these creatures are nearly always the sort to be kept by humans; they are presumed to be pets, "belonging" to the creator of the image, which to me implies an interesting symbiosis between creator and subject in which the latter is both owned by and celebrated--nearly worshipped--by the former, with no small implication of fear in certain examples such as this:

I am, of course, willing to concede the layer of irony in this "fear," but the reverent attitude toward animals (missing in most facets of mainstream culture) remains.

It is not, however, what makes lolcats unique; their most unique and valuable aspect is the lack of inherent commercialism. Though the blogmakers capitalize on the content [3], the content generates from the lolcatters' desire to amuse their fellow Internet surfers, and to participate in the world of computers. So much in our society--music, film, literature, food and drink--is commodified, to the point that it can barely exist as anything but commodity. An online store can sell you a shirt or a mug, but the day it sells you a lolcat (coffee table reprints notwithstanding) is the day the paradigm shifts.

In time, fequenters of imageboards will tire of lolcats, at which point I can only hope that someone will find a mode of humor as potent, as full of humanity and Thoreauian love of nature, and as nuanced in its relationship to its medium. Whether that happens, it is very important that we continue to share a medium that is free to the public and (if it must be commercialized at all) does not exist for the sake of commercial promotion. When we lose such things, we lose the collective soul at once resistant and necessary to a capitalist society.

1 comment:

insafemode said...