You know, I don’t think that, back in the eighties and nineties, I saw my cat in quite the same way that cats are routinely conceptualised today. Flash (I was three when I named her: she was fast) was an independent and aloof beast, a friend who never judged even if she mostly didn’t understand (that was okay, I didn’t understand a whole lot either). She was a wild thing, and a killer even after she lost her teeth. When she died I made sure to bury her myself, and I did so alone one morning in the back yard, when everyone else had gone to work or school.
She was never into cheeseburgers, or cheezeburgers.
It’s not just that the semantic payload of a cat has changed – big deal, peoples’ associations and narratives shift around every day – it is that a larger part of that payload than previously has been universalised. The change is not that people think of cats in particular cutesy ways. Lots of people already did. It is that so many of them think of cats in the same cutesy way. Your cat is your cat, and you know it as an individual, but everyone now knows all cats as the cutesy, spelling impaired, pseudo-anthropomorphic protagonist of the internet.
Is that bad? Well the cats probably don’t care. And the long distance collaborative creative culture that the internet fosters (of which cat macros are but one very popular branch) has to be a good thing, right? T.S. Elliot made an early contribution to the mythology of the domestic feline with Old Possom’s Book of Practical Cats, and things came full circle in 2007 when Reed translated The Wasteland into lolcat speak. I say circle, it is really more of a squiggle, probably. Rhetorical devices like that have always left me expecting more narrative completeness from life than is actually available. Does anyone else get that?
My genuine question is, what is the difference? Because it feels like there is one, but I can’t articulate what. Is this just another part of the process that started with radio slowly making people’s accents more boring, or is it something else entirely? If it is the first, if indeed the first is even a thing, well, lots of people still speak differently, and the rise of many-to-many communication would if anything reverse that, wouldn’t it? Or does it increase our need to speak the same even as it gives us access to more voices? How does the tension of individuality, heritage and a million other things play out against the need to be understood?
What happens exactly with this amorphous monoculture that intersects with all our lives? Is it just that those who would have made their own joke anyway find that someone already has? Or does the rapid spread of a singular meme actually replace alternative reactions and humour that would have been there without its ubiquity? Is there any more value to ideas that grow in cultural isolation? Do they give us something that we cannot get otherwise? Beats me. I’m not nostalgic, I’m just curious.
Also, I cross-posted this to tumblr, which doesn't really work, because I don’t even have an accessible photo of Flash, let alone the obligatory animated gif that would really justify it. Imagine a world where you have no photos of your cat. So many things have cameras in them now that you can get cameras with cameras in them.
Incidentally, lolcat wasteland can be found here: http://corprew.org/content/lolcat-wasteland/