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September 2007
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November 2007

Clues

I steal most of my creative material from dreams- visual mashups, juicy memories, entire storylines, etc. In fact, I bet 90% of what I write is generated in those pixilated moments of resisting the alarm clock. So I felt all tingly as I read this NYTimes piece today: In the Dreamscape of Nightmares, Clues to Why We Dream at All

"Ordinary bad dreams rarely recapitulate unpleasant events from real life but instead cannibalize them for props and spare parts, and through that reinvention, Dr. Nielsen explained, the fears are defanged."

That makes it sound just like the process of writing and storytelling! Re-read that awesome sentence and substitute the word “stories” for “bad dreams.” Maybe dream-ology has some clues to why we write at all, or create. Plus, its not often you get to use the words "cannibalize" and "defanged" in one statement.


Inside Joke

Ebonics

Someone oughtta write a paper on what makes lolcats so violently funny. A linguist or a pissy language arts teacher. Or me! Taken alone, these deceptively innocent jokes work on so many levels, so instantly. But as a whole, they're a weird social phenomenon. I actually look at them sometimes, sitting at my desk with tears running down my cheeks and say, gawd, why do they make me laugh so hard?

This question has been bothering me. Because I think they are really funny and beneath the innocent parody there seems to be some casual racist, classist mocking going on. Its like an inside joke, and the more you read them, the more you're gratified by your own sense of humor, by being "in" on the joke. I recently subscribed to the RSS feed for I Can Has Cheezburger, and I actually feel kind of dirty about it. I have to end it.

Last week, I tried making a few of my own lolcats to send to my sister on her birthday. They aren't so simple. I started wondering, what is the formula?

Wikipedia cracked me up. Here's how they broke it down:
Common themes include jokes of the form "Im in ur noun, verb-ing ur related noun." "I haz a noun" pictures show a cat in possession of an object while "Invisible noun" show pictures of cats interacting with said invisible object. Another common lolcat displays a cat with a specific look, which is described by X, and the text, "Xcat is not amused" or "Your offering pleases Xcat."

But there's more to it than that. On the first level, lolCats are a familiar joke. We grew up seeing stuff like this in every public institution:

Hanginthere

They take aim at what I consider to be a fair game- cat lovers- while acknowledging that we all indulge a bit of pet sentimentality ourselves. I roll my eyes at my cousin who's always sending annoying forwards of puppy photos, but I have to admit that I look at them and say awww. The truth is, the photos are often unbelievably cute, even before they get captions. With lolcats I get to mock stupid internet-using pet lovers, and look at cute animals at the same time. Savvy!

We know that baby-talking for animals is silly, but we do it anyways. Lolcats take anthorpomorphism to an absurd and very specific white collar world- cats doing not just people things, but really technical, mundane people things, like say, editing a Wikipedia entry or talking to tech support. What do these activities reveal about the audience?

And you don't have to be a smug graphic designer to laugh at the shitty typography. The homemade-internet look is part of the joke too. Ah, the plebes with their low-budget digital cameras and photoshop knockoffs. ha ha.

So even with these elements, we could make a cute greeting card. But that wouldn't be funny enough.

Its the broken grammar that makes them so twisted. The really hilarious lolcats take the punchline, and say it with a speech impediment (i suk mah fum), or in myspace slang (kthnxbai!) or with a southern accent (Mah mortgage dun readjusted!) or in ebonics (they be stealin' my blanket).

Ebonics2

And wow, we are now making fun of so many things I can hardly keep track! As a southerner, I can't help but notice that, as usual, the voice of ignorance has a southern accent. I hate to kill the joke, believe me. Does laughing make me a yankee racist snob? By pointing out these impressions, am I just revealing my own linguistic stereotypes here?


Karla Circle

Karla2

Whenever Jason is telling me a story from his childhood, like the time he put on cowboy boots just to slide down the neighbors driveway and everyone applauded, or when he burnt the skin off his toes stomping out a secret "experiment" that caught fire, or when his sister spraypainted "CP" on every tree in the backyard, or when the next door neighbor's husband got struck by lightening, or the time David Turner got the breath knocked out of him after he failed to clear the creek on his bike, despite the plywood ramps they had constructed for the event, and they tried reviving him with a waterhose, my first question is always, "Now, how old were you when this happened?"

And he is never quite sure how old he was, because he spent his whole childhood in one place-- the house on Karla Circle. He claims the years bleed together in his memory. He will then perform a little equation like, "it was after Matt got his beetle but before my mom died, so that would be '88, '89." Or something like, "that was the year we got bikes for Christmas and right after that, Van busted his spleen riding, so I was probably 9."

It's not that he's forgetful. Jason's stories render detail as if he's describing a video he's edited, or a painting he's studied. I guess "home" does define our sense of a personal timeline, and his lasted 17 years.

It doesn't help that neither of us can remember seeing any baby photos of him. There is little documentation, but we still found bits of evidence: a faded "CP" on the brick and a scrap of rusty chain embraced in the bark of a tree.