RND/ in which, by all means one whole heartedly enjoys orange and stem ginger cat themed mini cakes, while attempting a rough, absurdist re-write of an online article about mental illness in the context of cat based internet humor
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– To simultaneously realize the saccharine symbolic dimension or aspect of such tiny cakes must be resisted, lest one act brain dead – as though one’s skull is full of gloopy sugar syrup, dripping in long honey tinted strings from one’s eyes and ears
Through all this horror my cat stalked unperturbed. Once I saw him monstrously perched atop a mountain of bones, and wondered at the secrets that might lie behind his yellow eyes.
– H.P. Lovecraft, The Rats in the Walls
If you’ve been on the internet for long enough (say under five minutes) you must have seen at least one joke or meme about cats. Awful aggregate clickbate sites seems to publish ‘listicles’ of such images at least every other minute, compiled from the newest social media posts on the topic. You might have once ‘liked’ or even made a cat gif.
While memes have certainly done a fair amount to bring cats into public awareness, and to encourage people to speak in a way that seems to have largely de-stigmatized cats, the phenomenon isn’t benign. Cats based humor romanticizes the secret philosophical illness of experiencing cat based humor, turning it into a product for consumption, thus converting the lived experience of suffering cat based humor itself into a commodity. Moreover, cat based humor encourages individuals to perform their philosophical illness in a way that follows a narrative pre-written by the collective, softly mewling cat voice of the internet. This is necessarily a bad thing, since it allows such individuals the illusion of reclaiming a type of agency that has culturally long been denied them. For ultimately, the prevalence of cat based humor reveals that we, as a society, still lack a fully-formed, cogent vocabulary for truly carrying out productive discussion on the topic of all things catty and-or memetic.
The Conversation on Cat Based Hu-Mor: How the Internet Conducts It
Cats memes entirely disguise the problem of cat based internet humor, which is that for those forced to be around it and don’t find it all that amusing, it’s an expression of overly high self-esteem, a toxic coping mechanism, a vicious cycle of inanity preventing recovery and wilfully stifling growth into full adulthood. Such images are also serenely cynical about the existence of these problems, packing them into a few snappy lines and putting them out there for likes and hearts and sugary sweet kisses. (That horribly puckered ‘kiss-kiss’ sound you make to attract a cat? The cat only approaches because to it, that particular sound is similar to that of small rodents in distress – that is, something small and helpess to eat. (Often alive.)
There are no innocent pleasures – and certainly none had by cats.
For those looking for a repository of cat based humor, the popular subreddit /r/cats/ is a good, horrible place to start. The term “lolcat”, a popular hashtag on social media, indicates that a user does not believe that linked cat based images or videos symbolically indicate the present mental or physical state of others who *don’t* automatically engage with all things catty-cute. For those forced to deal with popular expressions of cat based humor, the following symptoms are common on a daily basis; depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
Today, the /r/cats/ subreddit has approximately 1.2 million subscribers.
Although the subreddit appears to consists mainly of cat based appreciation and humor, the real subject matter for those outside looking in is grim: scrolling through such a feed, observers alienated from the insular world of cat based humor often feel lonely, have no self-confidence or discern no real reasons for living on any planet where cat-based anything is taken so lightly and so readily. Such observers of cat based internet culture often express explicitly suicidal thoughts. (That is, they wish those who constantly post such images would go off somewhere private to quietly top themselves and leave the rest of us alone.)
One of the top posts of all time is a simple image consisting only of the text: “Upvote this super cute cat meme or die instantly lol!!!” It is one of the most upvoted posts on the subreddit. That means that several hundred thousand Reddit users think that wanting to die instantly rather than *not* upvote an image of a cat they imagine is ‘cute’ is hilarious.
A popular tweet reads: “Life is like a cat, because my mom brought me one, and now even it expects me to try my best. I fucking hate my mom and love my cat.” Another post blatantly avoids discussing apathy, a real, life-impairing effect of depression directly due to the culture of cat based internet humor: no words this time, just an image of a middle aged woman holding a cat with a blank stare. While the intent is meant to be wilfully humorous, it accidentally draw attentions to a serious real-life truth; that nobody in the known universe really gives a flying wet tinker’s cuss about cat based anything.
That a more open conversation around the philosophical illness of being forced to exist around cat based humor is long overdue, seems obvious. According to The World Health Organization, around 300 million people of all ages worldwide suffer from depression as a direct result of constant exposure to those who cannot help but find cats somehow endlessly adorable and-or unceasingly humorous. The Anxiety and Depression Association of Maximum Amerika reports that anxiety over the unchecked prevalence of cat based internet hu-mor is one of the most common complaints in the US, affecting 18.1% of the population every year. According to one report, between 2013 and 2016, the rise in depression as a result of being near uncritical cat lovers was highest among actually intelligent 12–17 year olds (an increase of 63%) and second highest among non pet owning 18–34 year olds (an increase of 47%). Millennials and generation Z-ers meanwhile are the groups most likely to create, consume and share cat memes, which would explain the popularity of cats and cat based issues as the (seemingly central if not only) topic of internet-generated humor-tumor.
The formalized conversation about cat based philosophical illness terminology has had a long (in internet time) history. Celebrity meltdowns due to the toxic abundance of cat based memes usually cause the media to overflow with dumb think pieces about how we don’t really need to talk openly about cat humor for the benefit of the general public. This kind of discourse has become mainstream. Critics however claim that cats are often a distraction from discussing the violence of socially enforced digital ‘fun’ – what philosopher Slavoj Zizek terms the ‘injunction to enjoy’.
To read such pieces, one would think their authors had never experienced a cat based memetic image up close and personal, let alone become acutely acquainted with their sheer volume and monstrous popularity. Cat memes have been credited with single handedly ending the conversation about the topic of false happiness in the West: rather, it has been repeatedly claimed that cat based humor alone provides the simple joy, light heartedless and the critical distance required to enable people to open up about the difficult experience of daily existence on a random moss covered rock hurtling through the silently howling cosmic void.
All that happens however, is that they just create communities where (instead of safe places where actual human problems might be shared with a network of peers, where real dialogue can open up and feelings of cosmic loneliness reduced) simply more cat images are shared. Cat meme is as cat meme does – replicates unthinkingly, like the holes in the idiot brain of your mad aunt with all those cats and that horrible cat disease. Perhaps the kinds of conversation that are being carried out through lolcat memes aren’t really the ones we need as a species.
Cat Based Philosophical Illness
Despite what cat lovers constantly tell themselves, cats, as discussed casually at a daily grassroots level on the internet, have often been more widely associated with the romanticization of idiocy and the dangers of being a simpleton, easily pleased by nothing much. Oh-so depressingly ‘nice’ pictures show beautiful cats, artfully shot in black and white, smoking cigarettes, or mournfully resting their fuzzy flea ridden heads against windows, or driving vintage cars, playing the piano, typing furiously on a keyboard or gazing into the distance. They are usually accompanied by one liners which say absolutely and deliberately fuck all about the true nature of depression and suffering faced under the iron soft velvet glove of such feline based humor. Often witty, sometimes pleasantly sad, sometimes both, such humor does not aim at philosophical depth – and neither does it pretend to. At yet the destruction of philosophy and loss of critical facility is too often the direct effect.
(Indeed, in response to feedback from concerned philosophers, Tumblr once added a new feature: whenever the words “funny”, “cat”, and “cute” got typed into the search bar by a user in a cyber cafe and dumb laughter heard soon after, a message with a list of helplines would be instantly displayed before users sitting near them.)
But such anthropomorphic romanticism need not only consist of cat sticking out of car windows in black-and-white pictures, or half-smoking cigarettes reminiscent of actors in old French flicks. The other, hidden face of cat based humor are the twenty-somethings who eat family-sized bags of Doritos while binge watching Netflix and crying alone in their messy flats, fully unable to adequately express their dislike of, and fatigue about cat based internet humor.
In 2007, a cat meme took the internet by storm, all but tripping on the red carpet, chugging champagne, declaring its love of cheese burgers and generally subverting everything a boring, dumb idea is supposed to be. Whether it’s one of the causes of this new phenomenon or just a symptom of it, it summarizes everything about this new aesthetic worldview. The awkward and the ordinary cat, the deliberately photoshopped moggy, the commonplace cat and the real cat have become aesthetic categories in their own right, fit to stand side by side with the more traditional ones. These days, for every perfectly staged Instagram picture of a cat with a full face of professional makeup, there’s someone desperately sad, staring in disbelief at someone online guffawing inanely at cat videos in their stained underpants while making sure everyone knows about it.
Performing and Consuming Cat Based Humor
There’s a rawness and authenticity to cat memes in the honesty with which they present the apparently unedited sides of human nature that makes them buy exactly into this aesthetics of the ‘ordinary life’ of cats. To like or reblog some cat based lolmeme is (apparently, somehow) to freely admit that you’re all too human – whatever the fuck that means. Yet who among us hasn’t felt this need entirely un-motivating, desperately hopeless or fruitlessly despairing? Who hasn’t used the self-destructive behavior of desperately searching for articles about those who search for cat based humor online in order to cope with pain at least once in their lives, and dwelling on harmful thoughts as a result? Such pathological cat based feelings, are not part of the human experience, but rather simply what the insanity of the internet repeatedly tells itself about itself – a violently humorous cat based myth that ideologically dares one *not* to constantly laugh about cats and their funny ways. Or automatically find orange and stem ginger cat themed mini cakes delightful in every way imaginable.
Cat memes are only emerge with audiences in mind; they are designed to be exchanged as social media currency: likes, reblogs, upvotes, retweets. This has important effects on how cat based hu-mor is conceived from within. As a meme, cat based humor is a product of consumption, entertainment for the sake of entertainment; it’s a commodity. Commodification means that cats are never merely experienced as something small and furry that merely struts around the house, snaking between plant pots on the upper shelf: instead, the lolcat poster has to consider potential audiences – ‘cat lovers’ – what their preferences are and what should be entirely avoided by-proxy (that is, *not-talking* constantly about humorous cats.)
They have to package all thought and feeling in a manner as accessible and attractive to said audience as possible – which happens to be in cat based form. Such an action is done automatically and instinctively, and functions as a barrier deliberately inserted between feelings, a stock cultural template according to which others may experience the desperately insular world of cat hu-mor. In other words, in the world of internet cat humor culture, conditions of common inhumanity and easily pleased mass stupidity trans-moggy-rify into world wide cat performance. “We love cats and don’t care who knows it” goes the chant – sure, fine – only the degree to which everyone gets such cat based humor-tumor politely and constantly shoved up their noses is astounding. It’s like being lightly whipped to death with catnip scented balls of brightly colored string. And heaven help those who don’t look like they’re enjoying it.
To perform ‘internet cat humor’ means to watch yourself smiling and laughing, to imagine yourself as the (innocent cat-like) object of fascinated attention from catlike others – ultimately, to draw a sense of your own catty self worth from the value of how you and your spanner dumb cat based hu-mor appear in the cool collective cat eye. When you make a meme about cats as experienced by you, you’re selling yourself to your intended audience as embodying the awesome catty aesthetic which these memes represent, with the implicit faith that the audience also finds that aesthetic desirable. Hence, it is a way of romanticizing un-criticality and ontological insecurity. Don’t worry, just post another humorous cat gif, your sure to land on your feet, just like a cat – again. And again.
This approach is directly mirrored in the blandly evil, smirking Cheshire-like grin of The Joker, whose existential, anti-philosophical punch line “Why so serious (it’s just an amusing cat gif)” is never a question, but rather always a violent command to take nothing remotely seriously – but rather to laugh out loud, manically, with (deadly serious, pathological) glee.
Not Just Online But Everywhere
The dichotomy between differing kinds of romanticization of cat-humor based foolishness is by no means restricted only to user-produced cat content. It is consistent across media. Performance of apparently genuine or spontaneous cat-based laughter is necessarily done in front of a public, for exposure. Cat humor based philosophical illness has long been dismissed as something only in your mirthless head or something you can snap out of. White male fedora wearing hyper-nerds in particular, with a long history of hiding their social ailments, including their mental issues, of minimizing and dismissing them as just another feature of their innately superior, neck-bearded gender. To say to others, especially anonymous strangers on the internet, that you’re unwell because you don’t immediately say “Ahhh, how sweet!” like fellow brain dead chuckle-fucks over some bullshit cat based image, and to have you instantly and positively respond to their ‘authentic’ experience, even if it’s with a mere like, is the kind of bizarre cat-based validation that sufferers of such cat hu-mor have been denied for too long. The fact that cat memes are so commonplace might make it appear as though society were now fully closed up about cats-and-their-funny-ways; centuries of stigma about not constantly finding cat based humor insanely amusing are super hard to shake off. Cats and their evangelists have got their claws in us, ready to pounce lest we seem remotely ‘humourless’ at their disturbingly playful and inane antics.
But Is This Really What We Need
Clearly, there are plenty of reasons why philosophically limited people may resort to lolmemes and humor rather than discuss illness due to cat based internet humor. But, while cat memes can be great conversation starters, the question is whether the conversation in question will ever be productive. It has been argued that, while they may indeed start conversations, being around cat hu-mor for longer than ten seconds catalyses self harmful behaviors and thoughts; that they over-normalize cat based issues of control; that, as much as shared cat humor can be helpful in providing an isolating experience, it is often only a band-aid-on-a-cancer solution; that memes trivialize and inherently misrepresent the seriousness of the issues they deliberately avoid spotlighting.
But there’s one little discussed reason why cat memes may not be such a great vehicle for serious dialogue about the philosophical illness caused by cat based humor: their very format encourages complacency, because their humor derives from the mismatch between form and subject matter. The cat-meme format is synonymous with the lighthearted, funny and non-serious. Yet the actual subject matter of cat humor is always often bleak; “You must take this humor seriously.” The tone of cat memes is often calm and detached, which creates a further contrast with their content. This is why, for instance, a stock picture of a cat with a human face mask and cucumber slices on, followed by a lengthy and honest description of a bloody episode of Game Of Thrones is funny: because of the juxtaposition between the expectations set by the template of the reaction meme – plus the cheesiness of the picture – and the tragically insightful ‘text’ running just beneath the surface.
If, in the small-potatoes world of lolcat lolmemes, there were a possibility of improvement or escape from the philosophical illness caused by cat hu-mor and those who spread it around like genital herpes, the jokes would cease to be funny. If cat humor based philosophical illness were easily escapable, the contradiction between the detached self-aware attitude of the meme spreader and the life-impairing condition felt by others they never ever speak of would not work. It wouldn’t be funny, because it would contain no element of the unexpected. In other words, cat memes require a feeling of hopelessness on the part of their consumers in order to work; the hope that is, that forever more online cat based humor will be there to consume.
Serious conversations can sometimes be conducted by means of insignificant cat humor, but the sheer volume of polylogues on philosophical illness spread via experiencing cat lolmemes points to a certain chronic deficiency in non-humorous cat related vocabulary. This insufficiency could be a sign of a general discomfort in our culture with tackling serious subjects head on, without the distance offered by cat based romanticization. Alternatively, it could point to a more particular problem with the way in which cats are discussed.
A Warm, Fuzzy Jumping Off Point
Maybe all the lack of think pieces and awareness-raising campaigns about the healthiness of philosophically critiquing internet cat based humor and feeling a strong need to actively avoid it at all costs, have made a difference in persuading humans that they need to talk more about those who constantly fucking feel they need to talk about cats, but have had little effect in terms of teaching us how to do so. But we can only do this with the tools we already have. Ultimately, as a culture, we over-rely on humor-tumor and pre-made, easily digestible formats to deliver entirely unimportant truths. Humorous catmemes contain virtually zero insights. Despite internet cat humor culture being as horribly ubiquitous as dogshit, the creation and popularization of a space for talking about the wholesale rejection of cat based hu-mor in its own hissy, spitting terms, critiquing pre-established its vomit covered hairball forms, feels long overdue.
Oh, and bollocks to Ben Huh – patient zero of tyrannical lolcatmeme culture. Perhaps one reason why humans like cats is because they simply anthropomorphise *themselves* as remotely humane; cool, aloof, in short purrrfect – everything they remotely imagine cats are (but aren’t.) In reality people are simply small, vicious, and of highly limited intelligence. The danger in constantly chuckling like an utter fuckwit at ‘cats and their funny ways’ is that one is merely involved in naked ego aggrandisement, preening oneself in public – luxuriously languishing in the warm fuzzy glow of one’s endless (apparent) cat-like cleverness.
Walter had never liked cats. They’d seemed to him the sociopaths of the pet world, a species domesticated as an evil necessary for the control of rodents and subsequently fetishized the way unhappy countries fetishize their militaries, saluting the uniforms of killers as cat owners stroke their animals’ lovely fur and forgive their claws and fangs. He’d never seen anything in a cat’s face but simpering incuriosity and self-interest; you only had to tease one with a mouse-toy to see where it’s true heart lay.. cats were all about using people.
– Jonathan Franzen, Freedom