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Oh Hai! A Lolcat Field Guide

In the inexplicable back alleys of the internet, the cat is king.

Cats and the internet have developed a connection that is baffling to some, and completely logical to others.  Youtube.com in particular is home to thousands of ‘funny cat videos’; perhaps an evolution of cat videos on shows like America’s Funniest Home Videos.  However, lolcats are surely the strongest feline presence on the internet.

The world of ‘lolcats’ or ‘cat macros’ can be simply described as captioned images of cats, but it also incorporates a variety of aesthetic and literary complexities.  The origin of the practice is generally attributed to the image board 4chan.org (link goes to Wikipedia, as there are things on 4chan that cannot be unseen), although lolcats can currently be found on a number of websites, such as Icanhascheezburger.com, Macrocats.com,  and Lolcats.com.

Posting lolcats seems to be an acceptable practice on almost any forum at almost any time.  Some lolcat enthusiasts are highly involved in multiple lolcat forums, while others may have a more casual level of involvement.  Creating lolcats and using the stylized language (called ‘lolspeak’) has become a more streamlined process recently, thanks to Speaklolspeak.com and programs like the Lolcat Generator on imageTXT.com.  Web development company malevolent design has even created the LOLinator, allowing users to literally ‘lolinate’ the internet.

Early precursors and cultural influences on lolcats are abundant in US culture, most notably kitten posters:

While today’s lolcats have a number of notable differences from kitten posters, it’s easy to see how they are related.  Cats are popular pets in the US.  According to a 2009 survey, one-third of households in the US have at least one cat.  Cats are relatively expressive pets as well, so they photograph well.  Kitten posters are arguably an extension of cat-adoration, and a way of sharing one’s appreciation of cats with others.  Lolcats serve the same purpose online. HS Becker’s outlines George Herbert Mead’s interpretation of this process:

…people move actively through their environments, searching for objects to direct their activity toward.  When they meet such an object (and he included among objects other people), they immediately interpret its meaning by imputing it to various tendencies to respond to the actions they might undertake.  Thus, people gradually shape a line of action by taking into account not only their own impulses but also the imagined responses of others to various actions they might undertake.

The history is lolcats online is a highly debated topic, and multiple sources of origin can be identified, depending on where you look. Student and lolcat enthusiast Helene Dams created the I Can Has History? page–a photo tree which traces the origins of famous lolcats back to Happycat, but does not speculate about the origins of the lolcat phenomenon itself.  Newgrounds.com user Jiggitysmith has created a six-part animated history of lolcats, and a brief, text-based history of lolcats can be found on ThinkingShift’s blog.  Most sites seem to be in agreement that the following lolcat was one of the first:

Many forums that are not specifically dedicated to lolcats still welcome their presence.  Saturday, which has been dubbed “Caturday” by lolcat enthusiasts, is the best time to find lolcats on those forums.

The quality of images that are used for cat macros is not strict; professional photographs to digital images taken from cell phones are all welcome.  The cats in the images are often shown at play, although a skilled caption-writer can make a macro from an image of cat sitting still or sleeping.  Captions are traditionally written in a simple bold font like Impact, with white letters that have black outlines, although this is not always strictly adhered to.  While entirely original captions and images are not unheard of in lolcat communities, many images are recycled multiple times and most captions refer to older captions, either in a direct or formulaic sense.

Many people who use the internet with any level of frequency have come across lolcats at some point.  Other individuals seek out lolcats specifically, participating in communities or forums where lolcats are encouraged.  For this reason, it is difficult to determine where the role of ‘artist’ stops and starts in the lolcat realm.  Multiple people may contribute to the creation of a single lolcat, and many more will inevitably respond with compliments or criticism.  However, no rules exist in terms of lolcats, and the taste of the community continually evolves based on variations from individuals.  Through this process, the aesthetic of lolcats is communally decided upon while remaining open to individual expression.  As Raymond Williams put it,

A culture has two aspects: the known meanings and directions, which its members are trained to; the new observations and meanings, which are offered and tested.  These are the ordinary processes of human societies and human minds, and we see them through the nature of a culture: that it is always both traditional and creative; that it is both the most ordinary common meanings and the finest individual meanings.

In this way, it is easy to see lolcats as a traditional expressive practice that utilizes modern technology, or even as art (!!!).

Lolcats and Demotivationals

Lolcats and Harry Potter

Lolcats IRL

Lolcats as Memorials

Lolcat Style

Collector’s Picks

Lolcat Characters:

Happycat

Serious Cat

Ceiling Cat

Basement Cat

Longcat

Caption forms:

My (noun): Let me show you it

Om nom nom nom

Want/Do Not Want

(Noun or adjective) Cat is…

I has a (noun)

In ur base, killin ur d00dz

Invisible (noun)

Works Cited:

Becker, H. S. (1982). Editing. In Art worlds. Berkeley: University of California Press. 

Williams, R. (2000). Culture is ordinary. In G.Bradford & G. Wallach (Eds), The politics of culture: Policy perspectives for individuals, institutions, and communities (pp. 16-19). New York, NY: The New Press.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Micah Bowling permalink
    March 17, 2011 11:14 pm

    This really is an amazing field guide! Anytime I’m unsure of a lolcat reference this is where I go.

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