13th May 2012 5:04pm | By Editor
Miltner says that unlike other internet memes for which popularity tends to wane after a short period of time, LOLcats have remained “relevant and popular” for more than five years, “inspiring a devoted following”.
The internet anthropologist said her research indicated the LOLcat audience falls into three groups.
“Cheezfrenz” is made up of diehards who are “invested LOLcat lovers whose interest in LOLcats generally stems from their affinity for cats”. MemeGeeks establish their affiliation with the group by making LOLcats that refer to more obscure memes. Finally, there are the casual users, those who are bored at work, who share LOLcats if they find them cute or funny. They’d pass them on to friends and family as a way of keeping in touch.
Miltner says it’s not necessarily the impact of the image of the cat, or the misspelled words underneath, which have led to LOLcats’ popularity. She says: “Many LOLcats are created or shared for the purpose of interpersonal communication and emotional expression. Ultimately, LOLcats are funny pictures of cats; however, the ways in which they traffic in fundamental human needs like belonging and emotional expression are no laughing matter.”
And those who guffaw at or dismiss Miltner’s choice of subject to study, suggesting, as some have, that it’s not worthy of analysis, would be wrong, according to Patrick Davison. The PhD candidate is focusing on memes at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. He says his research is important “because these are the kind of cultural interactions that people participate in these days”.
He told The Independent: “You wouldn’t blink twice if someone said they wanted to study the cultural effect of newspapers or books or TV.”
Defending her own research, Miltner is quick to point out the fact that LOLcats are so popular, with millions of people interacting and sharing, makes it worth exploring.
She writes: “What I ultimately discovered is how seemingly trivial pieces of media – pictures of cats with captions – can act as meaningful conduits to central elements of our humanity.
“They are a venue through which people express their emotions, connect to their loved ones, and define group identity. This not only gives them value; it makes them important. To quote [technology expert] Sherry Turkle, ‘some are tempted to think of life in cyberspace as insignificant, as escape or meaningless diversion. It is not. Our experiences there are serious play. We belittle them at our risk’.”