May 11, 2007

The internet is a constantly evolving picture of life as we understand it. There are various groups and communities within its sphere of influence. Memes, abbreviations, and porn move through the internet at alarming rates. Who remembers the Hamster dance? Or the demented car engine noise which eventually became the detestable Crazy Frog?

There is an interesting subculture related to all these memes, and that is the commentators. Those who choose to analyse, rationalise, and dissect human behaviour in these situations. I’m going to take one post in particular as example, namely this one.

I’m familiar with lolcats. The “phenomenon” of subtitling an image with a funny caption is certainly nothing new. What warrants the continued discussion is the repeated patterns, oh wait, grammar, which inhabits this realm.

Lolcats are funny. But why are they funny? Many of them are not funny, until you’ve read enough of them. They exhibit all the normal things which amuse people, for example: shared joviality (albeit indirectly, via internet forums, blogs, etc). repetition, familiarity, expectation followed by punchline (i.e., the time it takes to interpret the image + tagline), shared knowledge (inside jokes).

I’m not sure why the author chooses to restrict his scope so tightly. After all, this internet subculture is rather small. Large, perhaps, in traditional terms, but in comparison to the cultures behind old Usenet posts, on email usage, etc, small. The problem, perhaps, with his work is that this flash-in-the-pan internet phenomenon will be largely gone, or rather evolved, within a matter of a couple of years.

I think the bigger interesting question that comes out of the whole phenomenon is not the phenomenon itself, but more how humans can find things funny in isolation when laughter, the gut-wrenching sort, is generally accepted as a group activity.