Find out what social research at the London School of Economics and Political Science concludes about LOLCats!
LOLCats have, maybe against all odds, become a constant in the fast-paced and ever-changing interwebs. With myriads of websites catering to the creation and dispersal of the popular kitty captions (or capshunz in the appropriate lingo) still going strong, they remain one of the most widely shared items in social media, blogs and are (who would have thought) being e-mailed around as ever.
As promised a while back, we will now take a closer look at what constitutes the undeniable cultural relevance of the LOLCat phenomenon. By no means only a laughing matter, LOLCats as a timely and ongoing form of cultural production are sure to have a tale or two to tell about the social world.
Under the telling title Srsly Phenomenal: An Investigation into the Appeal of LOLCats Kate Miltner authored an original piece of postgraduate research at the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She not only investigates why, in the otherwise rather short-lived world of online memes,
LOLCats have managed to remain popular and relevant for the better half of a decade
but additionally examines the phenomenon in its wider context of contemporary digital cultural practices.
Why in the name of Ceiling Cat are LOLCats so popular?
As an enabling force behind LOLCats, she identifies the evolution of Web 2.0 and user generated content in more general. Technological developments alone, however, do not shed light on the textual and social nature of the kitties continuing popularity. Miltner’s findings are based on six exploratory focus groups conducted both online and face-to-face with 36 research participants recruited via a number of social media platforms.
The primary finding coming out of this research (…) is that LOLCats’ appeal is connected to their genre, their humor, and the way that they can be used to connect to others. However, somewhat surprising was the underlying reasons as to why those things are the root of LOLCats appeal.
I found that when it came to LOLCats, sharing and creating were often different means to the same end: making meaningful connections with others.
LOLCats not only speak directly to (and about) peoples lives and immediate concerns in accessible ways, they also touch upon emotional expression and a sense of belonging. Miltner’s study shows that LOLCats are much more than just silly bits of randomness involving cute cats (not to say that there is no worth in that in the first place):
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.
Interestingly, the study additionally shows that the LOLCats’ community is by no means a homogenous group. Miltner’s research identifies three rather distinct user groups:
“Cheezfrenz” is how community members are referred to on ICHC. They are invested LOLCat lovers whose interest in LOLCats generally stems from their affinity for cats. They actively seek out LOLCats, usually on a daily basis.
While MemeGeeks enjoy LOLCats, their interest in them is almost nostalgic, stemming mostly from LOLCats’ place in the meme canon and their role as the progenitor of other less mainstream memes (…); most interact with them on content-oriented social networking sites such as Tumblr and Reddit.
The Casual Users were mostly comprised of the “Bored At Work” population (Peretti in Stryker, 2011: 172) and cat owners. These users tend to engage passively with LOLCats, receiving them from others via email or seeing them on Facebook.
Something to think about – which kittylicious user group do you subscribe to?
What do we take away from our excursion into the social scientific value of online cat humour? Next time we catch ourselves procrastinating over kittens, we refrain from feeling bad about it. Simple as that. LOLCats are important, after all! On some level we all knew they must be, but hey, now its legitimate!
All quotes from: Miltner, Kate. 2011. SRSLY PHENOMENAL: An Investigation into the Appeal of LOLCats. London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Media and Communications.