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Pop Semiotics:
Cat Macros as Communication

Posted By Joe Carter On May 23, 2007 @ 3:02 am In Pop Semiotics | 20 Comments

Not long after Al Gore invented the internet, his wife Tipper uploaded a picture of the family cat launching one of the most ubiquitous trends in web culture. But over the past year, a strange subgenre called “lolcats” or “cat macros” has developed, turning a meme into a form of folk art.
As the Wikipedia entry explains, lolcats [1]– a portmanteau of “lol” and “cat”–are photos of cats with comedic captions created for the purpose of sharing with others on imageboards and other internet forums. The caption is characteristically formatted in a sans serif font such as Impact or Arial Black, usually in white letters with a black outline. (In fact, this type of lettering has come to define the genre, so much so that the use of other fonts and colors seem like a violation of an unwritten aesthetic code.) The caption is intentionally written with deviations from standard English spelling and syntax featuring strangely-conjugated verbs. Despite the odd construction, the syntax has, as Anil Dash [2] notes in a post on the topic, a “fairly consistent grammar.”
The cats not only speak in a form of pidgin English (which makes the captions funnier) but they also tend to use “leetspeek” [3], a written form of slang used primarily on the internet and online video games. David McRaney [4] explains how this peculiar brand of folk art works as communication:

[A] fusion of sorts between learned, direct language and rapid, practical digital missives takes place with Leetspeak and macros. Both relay a great deal of information in a small burst of code. Each depends on the receiver of the information having working knowledge of the culture and its references. In a sense, these serve as argots, and help identify both sides of the information transfer as belonging to the subculture where they appear. The in-joke is part of the communication. The separation of ingroup and outgroup helps drive the rapid evolution of both leetspeak and macros.

The appeal of cat macros is that they can be enjoyed as folk art, even by those who are in the “outgroup.” Listed below are a few of the various sub-genres:

Invisible objects

Variations on the gamer meme “I’m in ur…”

Expressing a desire not to be eaten

Confessions of what they have eaten

Variation on “I has..”

Character cats

Explanations of their behavior

Various non sequiters

More cat macros can be found in the following galleries (Caution: some images contain crude language):

See also:

Other posts in this series:

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URL to article: http://evangelicaloutpost.com/archives/2007/05/pop-semioticscat-macros-as-communication.html

URLs in this post:

[1] lolcats: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lolcats

[2] Anil Dash: http://www.dashes.com/anil/2007/04/cats-can-has-gr.html

[3] “leetspeek”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leet

[4] David McRaney: http://icanhascheezburger.com/2007/05/08/a-special-in-depth-analysis-by-david-mcraney-l337-katz0rz/

[5] ICanHasCheezburger.com: http://icanhascheezburger.com/

[6] Meme Cats: http://www.dropline.net/cats/

[7] slide show essay on lolcats: http://www.slate.com/id/2166338/

[8] The Rise of Polyamorous Advertising: http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com/archives/001662.html

[9] Torture-tainment: http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com/archives/001778.html

[10] The Passion of the Rappers: http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com/archives/001806.html

[11] Gnostic Inoculation: http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com/archives/002941.html

[12] A New World of Blurs: http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com/archives/003097.html

[13] Whore and Pimp Chic: http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com/archives/003107.html

[14] An Inconvenient Truth About the Unchained Goddess: http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com/archives/003537.html

[15] Conservatism’s Most Influential Media: http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com/archives/003571.html

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