Ceiling cat, basement cat and the battle for your soul

November 11, 2008

If you haven’t heard of Ceiling Cat and Basement Cat by now – well, here’s your chance.

Richard Dawkins first defined the meme – a unit of information, analogous to a gene – in 1976. Like genes, memes have the ability to reproduce themselves; successful memes are those that spread and outlast their rival ideas clamouring for the attention of an audience.  In many ways, advertisers and marketers set out to create memes that survive and prosper.  The internet has proven a fertile breeding ground for memes of all descriptions.

Then you get memes within memes. Thus, we have lolcats (photographs of cats given humorous captions) which in turn can be divided into such memes as monorail cat, ceiling cat, basement cat and the entire Invisible series. There are also lolruses – literally, pictures of walruses with funny captions – though it has to be pointed out that the original lolrus was a very popular Japanese elephant seal called Minazo.

His party trick was sticking out his tongue while holding a bucket.

Ceiling Cat started with a random photograph of a tabby poking his head through a hole in the ceiling. Somebody captioned the pic “ceiling cat”, and made the connection to the lolcat equivalent of the Almighty. Ceiling cat of course required an equivalent to the Devil, and thus Basement Cat came to be. It was only a matter of time before some bright spark came up with the Lolcat Bible translation project.

Why do internet memes like this matter? Well, they’re perfect examples of the gigantic virtual petri dish that is the net, in which ideas that might seem utterly preposterous in the ‘real’ world feed off the obscure interests of niche audiences and grow into something that makes real dollars.  In September 2007, the big daddy of lolcat blogs, icanhascheezburger, was sold for $2 million. It is now part of a stable, including blogs devoted to loldogs, celebrities, current events and the Fail meme.

Another very popular site devoted to all things cute, Cute Overload, has released a calendar which quickly shot to the top of the Amazon rankings. The New York Times has reported on the success of Cute Overload and similar sites, which some experts attribute to female office workers seeking some form of escape from the depressing reality of corporate life.

Given that we’ve entered a season of depressing news and the post Obama victory high can only last so long, sites devoted to lolcats and other forms of cute will only grow in popularity. Verily, the cute shall inherit the earth.

By Sarah Britten