Book Preview: There’s more to cat memes than Internet LOLcats

What’s slowing down completion of the ebook, with 50 facts about domestic cats and where they come from, is that these last chapters I had intended to base on blog posts, and those old posts just aren’t that good; I’m having to rewrite almost every one. Here’s the final version of the one on cat memes–hope you enjoy it!

Does your phone or tablet have curved edges? That’s a meme.

According to the website Know Your Meme, Apple came out with curved edges on its iMac G3 in the late 90s. Everybody loved the look and everybody copied it. Today all portable computers must have curved edges, even though there’s no practical use for them.

Memes are a cultural thing that catch on and persist. The word comes from the same root as “mimic,” and that’s what we do–see something we like, copy it, and share it with other people.

Add in cats, and you might break the Internet!

What are LOLcats?

Short answer: Images, often captioned in broken English called “lolspeak,” of funny-looking cats. The earliest ones, without lolspeak, are from the 1870s; true LOLcats became an Internet phenomenon in the 21st century.

Details: Whoever introduced Happy Cat–the image of an eager-looking gray-blue British Shorthair–in the early 2000s probably wasn’t thinking about the Victorian era at the time.

And when someone captioned Happy Cat with “I Can Has Cheezburger?” in 2007, they pioneered both LOLcats and the Cheezburger meme-making website; however, they likely were unaware that someone in England had published almost 200 similar images over a century earlier.

Back in the 1860s, Victorians were wild about both cats and a new technology called photography.

They held the first cat shows in London’s Crystal Palace–a gorgeous glass/iron/wood exhibition hall that just had been featured in a popular photographic essay.

This being Victorian England, society people used formal visiting cards. Now, everyone wanted photographs on those cards, and a cat lover/retired soldier in Brighton named Harry Pointer opened a studio, thinking that visiting cards with cat images would sell well.

He was correct.

Pointer’s cat pictures range from traditional poses to silly things like cats rollerskating. Some have captions, generally greeting-card sentiments like “Happy New Year,” but occasionally humor like “Bring up the dinner, Betsy” on an image of three cats sitting by an empty dish.

In the early 20th century, another Harry, an American named Harry Whittier Frees, Continue reading