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webslinky: lolcats
This week, talking animals.

Since Webslinky discussed the internet’s obsession with cute cats last year, another trend has emerged from inherent humour found in pictures of the anthropomorphised scamps: lolcats.

The most public hub of lolcat activity – and perhaps a new contender to Cute Overload’s throne – is I Can Has Cheezburger, a blog gleefully documenting (and encouraging) the wealth of captioned animal pictures with endearingly bad grammar which are sometimes referred to as “image macros”.

Image macros have been floating around the net for years, of course, but until recently they were usually in-jokes restricted to forum communities, as opposed to the wider web. Now they don’t even need context – you can browse whole galleries of the things without all the messy forum stuff, thanks to sites like and Meme Cats.

Not that this phenomenon is just restricted to cats. There’s a good line in walruses (or lolruses), although this time there’s more of a narrative theme: a walrus has lost its prized bucket and still hasn’t got it back. Follow the whole saga here.

And there’s a whole subgenre of pictures which started with this rather surprised-looking owl exclaiming “O RLY?”. Like lolcats, the O RLY Owl has steadily gained notoriety and has been referenced in various other areas of nerd culture, including videogames and even an extra on the DVD of Graham Lineham’s Channel 4 sitcom The IT Crowd.

Beyond a few references in other mediums you might think this style of memetic humour is unique to the internet. And it would certainly be tricky to replicate on television, for example, unless a channel starts broadcasting slideshows of pictures sent in by its viewers (which might already be happening for all I know).

But we’re actually used to the notion of picking up a concept or a phrase and playing with it: in fact you’ve probably seen an example today in a headline. These “some-assembly-required adaptable cliché frames” have been dubbed snowclones, and Anil Dash investigated their manifestation as lolcats on his blog, where he spends some time considering the acutely specialised form of lolcat grammar.

It’s irritating when used as a lazy shorthand for a joke, although this could be resolved if tabloid sub-editors start inserting pictures of kitties in their headlines.

David Thair 17 May 07
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see also
previous web columns
webslinky #132
practical magic

webslinky #131

webslinky #130

webslinky #129
file storage

webslinky #128



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