Maybe it’s because the onset of the holidays always puts me in something of a melancholy mood, or maybe because I’m again staring down the barrel of six bleak months of winter, but I can’t help but read lolcats these days without glimpsing at something of the heartache of the human condition.
In a piece a few weeks ago in Salon, Jay Dixit articulated it perfectly, when he wrote, “This is all funny stuff. But I submit that the true genius of lolcats lies in their tragedy.”
Lolcats, if you don’t know, is a web site and internet phenomenon that combines a photo of a cat with a funny, idiosyncratic caption in broken English—a sort of dialect known as “lolspeak,” “kitteh,” or “kitty pidgin,” which parodies the poor grammar and spelling of Internet slang. The name “lolcat” is a compound of the phrase “LOL” and “cat.” It’s simple, it’s goofy, and it’s stuffed full of references and self-references. Sometimes even I don’t get it, and I spend a lot of time online.
Its flagship site, Icanhascheezburger.com, will top a billion page views this year, and all of its photos and captions are submitted entirely by its fans. Readers upload thousands of home-rolled captioned photos every day, and six or eight of them are posted on the site. Last month, Gotham Books published the coffee table book, “I Can Has Cheezburger,” which helps to deconstruct some of the lolcat culture and lore.
I’m not much of a fan of cats, but still I check in with the felines on lolcats almost daily. I started because it’s a quick pit stop, and it’s often hilarious.
In words, I tried to explain how funny some of it is, but I ended up sounding like my stoner friend Ross from college, who would get baked and then launch into a maddeningly complex story that looped around and back on itself, sprinkled liberally with verbal footnotes: “I knew this guy… Well, I didn’t really know him, I knew his sister, and she was more like a friend of a friend. Actually, you know her… remember that dude from that sociology class, freshmen year? Okay, not him, but that guy who sat next to him….? I think. Uh… wait. No, not him…”
Anyway, this is one of those times when a picture really is worth 1,000 (otherwise convoluted) words:
Like I said, maybe it’s my mood, which lately has been colored a shade of funk. But like Dixit, I’ve been seeing a lot of the human heart in the cats lately: a sort of reflection, rendered in fur and four paws, of our own aches, fears and desires. For cheeseburgers, certainly: The site was launched on the premise of a cat intent on grasping the Holy Grail of the “cheezburger.” But for so much more, too: love, fulfillment, belonging, fortune and glory, all of the very things that lurk in our heart of hearts.
“[What's] funny is what’s sad,” Dixit writes. “My favorite lolcats are not the rapscallions pining for ‘cheezburgers’… but rather a brilliant and underappreciated subgenre of sad lolcats — tragic figures of grief, yearning and unrequited love.” Like this:
And finally, from the spinoff Walrus “lolrus” page:
The world can be a harsh place, the animals say. Love is patient, love is kind, love is never envious or arrogant with pride, and all that. But love, maybe a little like the holidays, makes you vulnerable to all kinds of sadness and heartache. Paradoxically, love stinks, as the cats and J. Geils and I guess most of us know.
There’s an empty seat at the Thanksgiving table where someone used to sit, or might have. There’s an empty place beside you in the lamplight, where you thought you’d have a friend. There’s always the threat that love will disappear, and sometimes, it does. And as for that walrus in the pool, I guess that’s something else entirely: the stuff lurking beneath the surface of the water, the stuff that fixed the panic in his button eyes, the stuff that brushes against your leg in a dark pond, well… that’s just creepy.