Some say porn fueled the early growth of the Internet. People got motivated to learn how to surf — and first became willing to use money online — in order to look at explicit videos and pictures.
But let us not forget the importance of LOLcats, the goofy, feisty, furry cats who crowd the Web with their adorable whiskers. People have spent chunks of their lifetimes looking at cat videos and at photos that have captions written in kitty pidgin — “Mai naym not Awww, mai naym Jeffree,” for example. The universe of LOLcats isn’t just an Internet novelty, my friends; it’s a full-blown subculture with its own rules and rituals, and it generates many millions of page views every day.
Our civilization is driven forward by lust and by super cuteness.
Also, let us remember that there are people out there — or in Seattle, anyway — who get paid to ponder which cat images are funny, which cat breeds are underrepresented, and whether or not it is ever acceptable to publish a photo of a dead cat.
At the Seattle office of I Can Has Cheezburger?, the factory of cat memes featured in the new Bravo series “LOLwork,” one employee asks, “What if it’s a dead cat — if we say it’s sleeping, is that OK?” He is met with strong dissention. “People don’t come here to see dead cats,” says Emily Huh, the website’s editor in chief, who also happens to be married to CEO Ben Huh. Huh’s online comedy empire, called Cheezburger, includes some 50 other humor meme sites in addition to I Can Has Cheezburger?, including Memebase, FAIL Blog, and The Daily What, as well as a pair of best-selling books.
“LOLwork,” which premieres Wednesday night at 11, is essentially just another Bravo reality show set in a specialized milieu, with petty employee spats. The group includes a bland guy, Forest Gibson, who tells us he was bullied as a kid. Frizzy-haired Paul Gude is a wannabe stand-up comedian who is a little older, and a little more cynical, than his co-workers. He knows way too much about octopus wrestling. Alison Monda is an office assistant who dreams of becoming an onscreen talent.
And Will Sharick is the seemingly humorless guy who believes deeply in cats. “Dogs hump your leg,” he says. “Do I need to give any other reason why cats are better?” He is the website’s content censor who bans certain words (“balls,” “horny,” and “prostitute”) from the LOLcats captions and reminds the editors that “the less hair a cat has, the more likely you are to see its genitals.” Is he truly this dour, or is he playing his Bravo role to the hilt?
The Cheezburger team is vaguely entertaining, a reality counterpart to “The Office.” There are moments when Will casts a scowl across the room that are presented as a sort of cringe comedy. But ultimately he is not a big enough character to drive the show, especially on Bravo. The “LOLwork” interpersonal issues don’t approach the operatic “Real Housewives” level of drama queenliness. The show does provide a window onto an unusual contemporary world, as the employees assess the mountains of cat material they receive — as well as all the other quirky material involving dogs and bears and donkeys. But their debates and conflicts, like the dear, sweet images they process, are inoffensive and dull. They will not leave you laughing out loud.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Matthew