I knew I wouldn’t be able to quit the blogging for long. I had a few hours before class, so why not? ICHC simply must be talked about.

What is?
I Can Has Cheezburger? (ICHC) is a WordPress archive of cleverly captioned photographs of cats and other animals. As of today, the archive holds about 860 captioned pictures and grows at a rate of about three pictures a day. These pictures are collected throughout the Internet or captioned and uploaded on the spot via the Cheezburger Factory. Once submitted, visitors can comment on and rate the hilarity of a picture on a scale from 1-5 cheezburgers (as opposed to stars). They can also tag, save and share pictures using ubiquitous Web 2.0 utilities like del.icio.us.

Roots and lolculture
I Can Has Cheezburger?It all began when a couple of guys on the Internet found this image you see to the right. Its humor was so simple yet so insanely perfect that they decided to set up a website to house and create similar pictures. The term “lolcat” soon entered the social vernacular as captioning funny cat pictures became a larger Internet meme.

The exact origin of the lolcat meme is difficult to trace, but we do know that it had its roots in online forums. The funniest pictures on the forums would be submitted to mass media websites like fark, fazed or ebaumsworld, where the pictures would be exposed to millions of users a day.

Memes like lolcat are fueled much like an artistic movement. A novel image inspires one person to create and share something similar. Online memes are unique in that they spread incredibly fast. Everything public on the Internet has the opportunity to be seen by everyone at once. Look at lolcat. A picture can be modified and uploaded in a matter of minutes and can be exposed to thousands of people in a single hour. The first accepted picture I had captioned and submitted was the ninth most popular entry on WordPress. After one week, the picture has received 1146 votes, 114 comments and 8 del.icio.us links.

Online communities come together with the development of memes, but the lolcat community appears to be especially cohesive. Most comments are supportive and are often additive, suggesting, in the native lolcat tongue, alternative captions. And comments, too, are rated just as the pictures are. The norms of this community seem to have just spawned on their own.

Tha funniez
What makes a lolcat funny?

The original lolcat, being the seed of the revolution, would be a good place to start thinking about lolcat humor. Let’s break the image down. There is a cat. There is bold white text above the cat. The text, a single phrase, is a question, so it is probably said by the cat. Already we have a form of irony, personification.

The cat asks, “I Can Has Cheezburger?” Note how the syntax, grammar and spelling are slightly off. Let’s see what the exact differences are between that and “May I Have A Cheeseburger?” In the captioned image, “Cheese” has been phonemically simplified to “Cheez” and “Have” has been replaced by the third person singular “Has”. The article “A” has been dropped. “May” has been changed to “Can” as in the common vernacular, and “Can I” has been flipped to “I Can” making the cat’s question ambiguous as to whether it is requesting a cheeseburger or if it is confirming that it is allowed to have a cheeseburger. These linguistic changes suggest:

  • Inferiority, lack of education and childish demeanor (singular phrase, simplistic spelling, incorrect grammar)
  • Informality (vernacular)

A context must also be linked between the text and the image. In this case, the cat’s smiling facial expression and tilted match with the text in a way the makes the cat appear innocent, spontaneous and sincere. The request for a cheeseburger complements the size of the cat, mischievously akin to a chubby kid. And the idea that a cat would even request a cheeseburger is absurd, hence the further irony.

So while lolcat humor is deceptively simple, it’s governed by a sophisticated play on linguistics and culture. One could divide the humor into several categories: labeling, recycling, emphasizing and contextualizing. These categories tend to have a lot of overlap, but each has a distinct feature.

Labeling simply describes what the picture portrays. Each lolcat is obvious labeled, but some labels are more straightforward than others. It can be difficult to label a picture straight up and still be funny, because humor depends on irony. Since there is little to no irony in labeling exactly what is seen in the picture, the label needs to be articulated in a unique way. Unique articulation can be achieved through spelling changes, grammatical changed, syntactical changes or vulgarity, and the tweaks should have significant ties to the image. Here are some examples:

Recycling perpetuates an idea from a previous image. Most lolcats perpetuate the main idea of simpleton humor found in the original lolcat. That is the driving force of the movement. But as more lolcats are grown, new ideas create new legacies. Any image that recycles an old idea, however, should contribute some new tidbit of humor lest the idea become exhausted. Here is a couple commonly recycled themes:

Emphasizing is a special kind of labeling in which the caption brings to light a detail in the photograph. That detail may or may not have been apparent at first, but an emphasizing label will bring it to light in an obvious and exaggerated fashion. Some examples would be:

Contextualizing makes winning lolcats. Context is the heart of captioning because it is where irony can manipulated. Rather than simply labeling what you see in the picture, you create a situation, provide a before and after, and essentially set up a small story. The Monorail Cat is a classic example of contextualizing because it suggests that the cat is actually moving along a track on its belly instead of just sitting there, giving you a richer and more ironic imagery. Some other good examples of contextualizing include:

Why da cats?
Why da cats indeed? What made cats such a perfect creature to pick on for shared online image macros? It might just be a tradition built upon a haphazard selection. Even if so, it’s significant that the meme persisted through the use of cats above all other animals. Probably the lolcat pidgin depended upon the image of the cat, as the cute or childish appearance of the cats complemented the dumbifying captions. What? Cute little fuzzers taking over the world? Yes! Whatever the reason, lolmemes simply would not have been the same without cats.

Read Moar:

  1. http://www.answers.com/lolcat
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lolcat
  3. http://icanhascheezburger.com/about/