The cuteness surge

By SHARON STEEL  |  February 1, 2008

This past week, after a two-day auction, lolcats finally made the official transition from Web to print: Gotham Books bought the rights to publish an I Can Has Cheezburger spin-off tome. Literary agent Kate McKean told Mediabistro’s Galleycat blog that site icon Professor Happycat will “guide the reader through the different memes with brief definitions and context, while still capturing the absurd humor of the site.”

In their most personal writings — such as e-mails or blog posts — lolcat users claim they find a sense of liberation in the language. “A lot of people use our pictures on their blogs, when they’re going on a rant about something,” says Huh. “They’ll post a picture of a lolcat doing something funny that’s related. They usually do that because it cuts the sharpness. ‘Oh, I had a crappy day, my boss really sucks!’ And then they’ll post a picture of Boss Cat, which is, like, ‘Come into My Office!’ ”

But lolcats also have the potential to slice away at the starkness of issues on a much larger scale, from death to globalization to conflicts in the Middle East. Huh recalls one popular posting of a suicidal lolcat, featuring a black background and one tiny white paw sticking up from the page. “Goodbye, cruel world,” was all it said. Then, on the first of the year, I Can Has Cheezburger posted a “Happy Noo Year” image of an Israeli defense solider who, clutching his M-16, was crouching down to pet a kitten sitting at his feet. “We wish you the peace on erf,” the administrators wrote, and the caption on the photo read “No Fite, Just Rubs.” The picture was one of the most popular photos of the day, and has since received 3533 Diggs on digg.com, a user-submitted news-article popularity Web site that also ranks photos. The image ultimately garnered 231 comments on I Can Has Cheezburger before the administrators locked them down so the site could load faster.

“This isn’t what we would call a traditional lolcat,” says Huh of the photo. “This isn’t, ‘Ha ha, this is funny,’ but it did resonate with a lot of people . . . this one was special for us.”

Itty-bitty kitty committee
Lolcats aren’t the only kitties that have managed to generate cultural phenomena. In Japan, Hello Kitty is, quite literally, everywhere. You can clothe yourself in Hello Kitty threads (underwear, outerwear, diamond-encrusted jewelry), douse yourself in Hello Kitty cosmetics, fill your apartment with Hello Kitty décor, cook a Hello Kitty breakfast with Kitty’s head burned in the toast made by your Hello Kitty toaster, withdraw money from your Hello Kitty Consolidated Account at Dah Sing Bank, write inter-office memos on Hello Kitty stationery with an endless series of Hello Kitty pens and pencils, cruise around in your Hello Kitty car, play music on your Hello Kitty stereo, and, on the weekends, spend your free time tooling around Puroland, an indoor theme-park in Tokyo run by Sanrio, the company that owns and licenses Kitty’s image.

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