Haven’t heard of Lolcats? Like so much else these days, it’s a web phenomenon. Lolcats are snapshots of cats doing crazy things. Nothing new in that. But the secret is in the text superimposed over the photos. Written in ‘demented’ English and cast in the tackiest fonts – in typefaces reminiscent of prehistoric Microsoft Word Art – this is the Lolcats trademark and the key to their success.
The Lolcats pedigree has evolved from a line of cute captioned kitty pictures known rather oddly as ‘cat macros.’ As Wikipedia’s Lolcat page explains, cat macros go back to ‘at least the 1870s, when British portrait photographer Harry Pointer created a carte de visite series featuring felines posed in various situations, to which he added amusing text intended to further enhance their appeal.’
What distinguishes Lolcats most is Lolspeak, a kitty pidgin that mashes up txtng English with babyspeak. Think ‘I are serious’. Think ‘I has a flavour’. Think ‘I can has cheezburger?’
The Lol in Lolcats is of course code for ‘laugh out loud’. The photos need be nothing more than the crudest of snapshots. The rudimentary font style adds a low-fi aesthetic. Maybe this is the appeal of Lolcats – their defiance of slickness.
Nanoanthropologists trace Lolcats back to the ‘imageboard’ website 4chan. 4chan is a free-for-all where users can post pretty much whatever they like, if the site’s community allows it. Created by the clichéd 15-year-old-in-a-bedroom, the site has existed since 2003. Since then the site has been associated with the full range of internet goods and bads, from web attacks to crime solving. It is in many ways the epitome of the unfettered internet.
In the primordial internet of 2003 to 2006, the 4chan site held ‘Caturdays’ and is usually credited as having the first recorded use of the term Lolcat (circa 2005).
But these are days of innocence before the big bang of 2007, when a cat with the stage name Happycat became an internet sensation for asking ‘Can I has cheezbuger?’ Happycat, feline freak and cutie rolled into one unhinged bundle of Lolness, is responsible for bringing Lolcats into the light through icanhascheezburger.com. For those into web history, a shapshot of the first fateful posting is captured on the internet archive.
This really was the start of something big. Created by Eric Nakagawa (Cheezburger), a blogger from Hawaii and his girlfriend, Kari Unebasami (Tofuburger), the site was reportedly sold to a ‘group of investors’ for US $2 million within a year of its creation. The rest is history. Lolcats have gone on to have their own Lolcat bible (the bible translated into Lolspeak), with the Qur’an on its way, and their own Lolspeak-based computer programming language LOLCODE.
No surprise that the Lolcats have inspired musicians. The MySpace Lolcat playlist contains 20 songs from MySpace that have in some way been inspired by the crazy Lolcats.
Is that how you feel lolcat?, by bird announced land, is unexpectedly melancholy, with delicate harmonies drifting over plaintive ukulele. There’s no obvious link to the Lolcats. Maybe the lyric ‘The way we say our lines/So that they don’t sound too real’ evokes Lolspeak. Or perhaps the song’s tape hiss and microphone popping reflect a low-fi Lolcat sensibility.
Low-fi is definitely one theme running through the playlist – even more than would be expected from an indiscriminate selection of MySpace tracks. Lolcats by an act that simply goes by the emoticon ‘🙂‘ is the epitome of low-fi Lolcatishness.
And what would any playlist be without at least one rap track? The video of Lolcats by Drown Radio can be viewed at the bottom of this page (warning: contains bad language).
Three acts on the playlist adopt Lolcats as part of their identity. There’s LOLcat from Ontario, with his mashed up Bianca’s birthday mix. And there’s DJ Lolcat’s Humdurydum wee. But indubitably the peak of Lolcat worship is LOLcatZ, a.k.a ‘mr. brophy’, who has taken Lolcatism to the extreme, with crazy cat pictures crawling all over his Myspace page. This guy is Lolcat obsessed. LOLcatZ OMG is a playful instrumental much suited to the Lolcat aesthetic. And check out his 300-word description of the LOLcatZ sound (‘Sounds like: a really funny text message that yer drunk friend sends you at like 4am and yer happy that yer slumber was disturbed because you were in the midst of a bad dream…and on for another 270 words).
All of these could fit well as the backing track to a Lolcats video, so it’s odd that more haven’t taken the time to put a video to their sounds. One exception is Goater, whose Lolcats video is below. Another, below that, is the Lolcats song by rathergoodstuff. Based on the Cure’s 1983 single The Lovecats (and the band’s first song to make the top 10 in the UK), the YouTube video has been viewed over 200,000 times.
How long can the Lolcats phenomenon last? Pictures of cats predicts (rather dourly I might add) the imminent demise of Lolcats. A graph on the site shows Google searches for Lolcats taking a slow downward slide after peaking in 2008.
Lolcats may not be around forever – enjoy them while you can!