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Megan Keaton

Dr. Yancey
Everyday Writing
3 November 2014
Everyday is Caturday: A Case Study of Captioned Cat Pictures
Web 1.0 was invented to allow physicists to share research papers. Web 2.0 was created to
allow people to share pictures of cute cats (Ethan Zuckerman qtd. in Borzsei 15).
Elli is an eight-year-old Calico domestic housecat. While she is incredibly affectionate
with her owners, she has a habit of batting and hissing at anyone else who attempts to touch her.
This attitude has led my husband and I her owners to interpret many of her facial expressions
as sarcastic and condensing. Those interpretations, then, led to the creation of the following
image:

In the original picture, Elli was standing at the corner of a table, looking at us sitting on the
couch. As I was learning to use PhotoShop, I decided to turn Elli into an image in the genre of
the Internet cat meme. This image harkens from a history of the Internet meme and of sharing
pictures of ones animals; specifically, it comes from my own experiences with the Grumpy Cat
meme and icanhazcheezbuger.com (back when it was primarily dedicated to LOLcats), as well
as the oldest known caption cat pictures, Harry Pointers Brighton Cats.
Meme
Linda Borzsei explains that, to constitute a meme, an image must be humorous,
circulated, and adapted as it circulates (4). Memes are not only shared online (through email,

websites, social media) but also encourageparticipation, inviting people to often anonymously
contribute to the entertainmentMost of these images are simplistic, often low quality and
mundane in style. They are not meant to be beautiful or particularly realistic; the focus is on the
message (5). One set of memes, the memes that are the focus of this paper, involves
photographs of animals with white or black superimposed text over the image
(knowyourmeme.com). The captions, often written in all capital letters, personify the expressions
and body language of the creatures in the image. With each mimetic series (Grumpy Cat, Doog,
Advice Mallard, etc.), the creators use the same image and adapt the caption, keeping the caption
within the same theme as the original captioned image.
Why Cats?
Of the wide variety of animal memes, the cat is the most popular animal on the Internet
(Alexander). More, as will be shown below, photographs of cats were circulated long before the
Internet. This begs the question: Why cats? Kate Miltner suggests that people identify with [cat
memes]; they often see themselves in the animals, and in the situations they are facing (17).
Likewise, Ben Huh maintains, Cats have very expressive facial and body expressions, so they
are a perfect canvas for human emotion, which makes them awesome for captioning and
anthropomorphization (qtd. in Elliott). The captions on memes, then, allude to the feelings and
thoughts humans have had and project onto the cats in the pictures. Jordan Shapiro flips
Miltners claim and asserts that humans want to be more like cats. He argues that we empathize
with cats because cats appear to flaunt their autonomy: they ask for attention with a kind of
aloofness that tells us that they desire human companionship, but they dont need it. Humans
use the Internet, Shapiro states, because [t]he web allows us to be like felines, connecting on
our own terms and at our own leisure. Either way, it seems that humans have some sort of
connection with cats and want to make cats more like themselves.
Harry Pointers Brighton Cats
Captioned pictures of cats that are socially circulated did not begin with the Internet. In
the 1870s, Harry Pointer, a Brighton photographer, sold carte-de-visite photographs of his cats.
Though he started with pictures of his cats acting normally (drinking milk, sleeping, etc.), he
soon moved to photographing cats in a variety of poses, placing his cats in settings that would

create a humorous or appealing picture. Pointer often arranged his cats in unusual poses that
mimicked human activities - a cat riding a tricycle, cats roller-skating and even a cat taking a
photograph with a camera (Harry Pointers Brighton Cats). He wrote captions on these
photographs, which ranged from vocalizing the cats expressions Bring up the dinner Betsy
to holiday greetings A happy new year. These photographs are known as The Brighton
Cats series.

LOLcats
Over a century after Pointer created Brightons Cats, LOLcats appeared on the Internet.
LOLcats are macro images of cats captioned in lolspeak, which uses phonetic spelling, mixed up
letters, and incorrect syntax. For instance, a LOLcat might say, I ARE CRYING CUZ I ARE
OUT OF FOCUSS (Lolcats). LOLcats originated on the imageboard 4chan sometime in
2005, when an anonymous user submitted a picture of a relaxed cat waiting for Caturday
(LOLcats Know Your Meme). Caturday pictures were posted every Saturday, though as
LOLcats spread to other sites, they began to be posted on other days. On January 11, 2007, Eric
Nakagawa and Kari Unebasami found a LOLcat image of a large grey cat (Terdiman). Its head is
tilted slightly to the left and its mouth is open, making the cat look excited. The caption reads, I
Can Has Cheezburger? This LOLcat struck a chord with Nakagawa and Unebasami, which
led them to register a website with the URL, http://icanhascheezburger.com. This site allowed
users to submit their own LOLcats, and conversations abounded in the comment section of each
LOLcat, the majority of which took place in lolspeak. There is a wide variety of LOLcat memes,
including the Invisible X memes; these memes depict pictures of cats jumping or positioned in
ways that could be interpreted as the cat using invisible items. For instance, one of the first
Invisible X memes was an orange and white cat jumping vertically. This cat is captioned with

INVISIBLE BIKE (Invisible Bike Know Your Meme). The invisible bike cat meme
recalls Harry Pointers cat riding a tricycle.

Another memetic series of LOLcats is X is not amused. This is a series based on


pictures of cats and pop icons looking profoundly unimpressed or even displeased, such as a
fluffy cat squished in a trash basket with the caption TRASHCAT IS NOT AMUSED
(Trashcat Is Not Amused Know Your Meme). The sarcastic and irritated tone of X is not
amused was translated to and hyperbolized in Grumpy Cat.

Grumpy Cat
Grumpy Cat is similar to LOLcats in that the caption supposedly vocalizes the cats
thoughts. At the same time, this meme does not use lolspeak. Grumpy Cat originally began in
2012 on Reddit. This picture shows a cat lying on its back on the photographers legs. The cats
expression is grumpy as the lines of its mouth form a Robert DeNiro-like frown. The original
picture which did not include a caption of the snowshoe cat was posted on September 23,
2012 and was instantly met with photoshopped parodies and image macros from others
(Grumpy Cat Know Your Meme). The first captioned picture read, I HAD FUN ONCE IT
WAS AWFUL (Grumpy Cat Memes). Since then, people have recaptioned the picture with a

variety of sarcastic, unfriendly, and mocking comments that allude to the cats disapproval of
happiness or affection and wish harm on the reader.

Creating the Elli Image


My interest in captioned cats began when I found icanhascheezburger.com. I found this
website before I owned my own cat and, for a minimum of a year, I looked at these memes daily.
Though I did not submit my own pictures or read many of the conversations in the comment
section, LOLcats and their lolspeak affected how I viewed the actions of domestic cats and dogs.
Specifically, I began projecting human thoughts, preferences and motivations onto them. After I
adopted Elli and as she become more temperamental, the X is not amused and Grumpy Cat
memes shaped how I interpreted Ellis facial expressions and attitude. Because I was a consumer
rather than producer of these memes, it was not until I was learning Photoshop that I had the
opportunity to bring these LOLcat/Grumpy Cat-like interpretations to life.
My captioned image of Elli was most immediately inspired by Grumpy Cat as a sarcastic
feline. However, because she loves to cuddle (at least with her owners), I do not imagine Elli as
wanting people dead or harmed. I read the original Elli picture, instead, as sarcastic and slightly
holier-than-thou. I adapted the sarcasm of Grumpy Cat to that of Im smarter than you as
opposed to I want to harm you. At the same time, I wanted to keep some of the evil connation
of Grumpy Cat, which is why I chose a red background. I intended the Elli image to have a
similar tone as the X is not amused cats, while allowing Elli to speak for herself (as opposed
to the X is not amused cats, who are spoken for.)

Reading the Elli Image


Tracing the history of captioned cat pictures can help us read the Elli image in various
ways. One of the interplays in cat memes seems to be whether the picture is intended to make the
cat look foolish or to suggest the cat is in charge. While Pointer posed his cats in unusual
positions, the cats seem to be in charge of their actions. The cat riding a tricycle, for instance,
does not seem displeased, which suggests that it decided to hop on the tricycle itself. Even if it
was put onto the tricycle, it chose to remain in that position. Likewise, the Bring up the dinner
cats suggest a position of power over either other cats or human (depending on who Betsy is
believed to be). The picture of Elli, likewise, suggests that she is in control of her actions. She is
in a stable and stationary position, which suggests she wants to be in the position she is standing.
Furthermore, she has the implication of control over the reader because she is (at least in her own
mind) more intelligent than the reader.
On the other hand, in memes like those of the X is not amused and Grumpy Cat,
suggest that the cat has less control. The X is not amused meme often features cats that have
been forced into situations, such as being shoved into a trash basket. Grumpy Cat, similarly, has
little control as most of the captions are conceived as threats that will not actually be carried out.
The cat is laughed at because she cannot act. Additionally, most of the threats give the agency to
the reader. For instance, in the caption, WHY DONT YOU SLIP INTO SOMETHING MORE
COMFORTABLE LIKE A COMA, Grumpy Cat is not putting the reader into a coma; instead,
the reader is given the action.
Furthermore, creators can play with the level of emotion and intelligence to give the cat.
LOLcats, regardless of the sentiments in the caption, seem to be less intelligent because they do
not speak Standard American English. Pointers cats, meanwhile, are intelligent enough to ride
bikes and take pictures. Grumpy Cat may be intelligent, particularly because some of the
captions are witty, but she is also overly emotional and irrational. It seems that the more
intelligent and less emotional the caption is, the more the cat seems to have control and is less
likely to be laughed at. Elli, unlike Grumpy Cat, is in control over her emotions, willing to stay
calm in the presence of what she considers stupidity. Additionally, Ellis caption endows her
with human intelligence and abilities. First, she is given a human voice as opposed to a meow.
The implication is that, even if her actual speech is a meow, her thoughts are in human
language. Second, her use of vocabulary like astute and her suggestion that the reader is less

intelligent than she is indicates that she has read the books on which she is standing. The picture
does not make fun of Elli; instead, the picture is similar to the Brighton Cats in that Elli can
perform human feats reading books and riding tricycles and can use human intelligence and
human language to accomplish her tasks.
What does this teach us about everyday writing?
This case study shows us that participation in everyday writing (even if the participation
is consumption without production) can shape how we perceive and interact with the things
and/or people around us. Though I have had cats in my house nearly my entire life and I have
talked to them like they are humans, I did not project human qualities and motivations onto them
until I found icanhascheezburger.com. After I started regularly reading LOLcat memes, I began
filtering my interaction with my cats through the lens of LOLcats. In high school, for instance, I
had a cat who used to knock items off of my nightstand; at the time, I would say she wanted to
hunt and had chosen that item to kill (a perfectly reasonable cat response). Now, when Charlie
(our kitten) knocks Madisons phone off of the windowsill, we talk about how he has a
vengeance against the phone and/or wants to annoy Madison. Even when I know my cats are
performing in normal cat ways with normal cat motivations, my first response is often to assume
they are acting and responding like humans do. In other words, my participation in the genre of
cat memes has shaped how I perceive my cats actions. Additionally, everyday writing can affect
how people interact with each other. To be more specific, captioned cat memes have shaped my
interactions with other cat enthusiasts. The majority of my texts to and from Kendall, for
instance, include pictures of cats and explanations of what my cats might be thinking. Similarly,
nearly every time we are together, one of us shows at least one cat meme or video to the other.

Works Cited
Alexander, Leigh. Why the Internet Chose Cats. Thought Catalog. 25 Jan. 2011. Web. 1 Nov.
2014.
Borzsei, Linda. Makes a Meme Instead: A Concise History of Internet Memes. academia.edu.
Feburary 2013. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.
Caturday Know Your Meme. Cheezburger, Inc. 2014. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.
Elliott, Amy-Mae. Why Does the Web Love Cats. Mashable. 21 Oct. 2010. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.
Grumpy Cat Memes. Grumpy Cat Limited. 2014. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.
Grumpy Cat Know Your Meme. Cheezburger, Inc. 2014. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.
Harry Pointers Brighton Cats. Sussex PhotoHistory. N.d. 1 Nov. 2014.
Invisible Bike Know Your Meme. Cheezburger, Inc. 2014. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.
Lolcat. Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 14 Oct. 2014. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.
LOLcats Know Your Meme. Cheezburger, Inc. 2014. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.
Shapiro, Jordan. Cats on the Internet: A Psychological Explanation. Forbes. 07 Dec. 2012.
Web. 1 Nov. 2014.
Terdiman, Daniel. The History of I Can Has Cheezburger. C-Net. 22 Aug. 2008. Web. 1. Nov.
2012.
Trashcat Is Not Amused Know Your Meme. Cheezburger, Inc. 2014. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.