I sent this meme to my friend the other day:
I dare you not to laugh at it. I dare you not to watch it over and over again and giggle every time.
I was not being a good friend, because after a long string of HAHAHAs and a ROFL or two, she replied,
“Stop making me laugh!! I’m writing a grad school paper and I need to be academic!”
“BUT,” I countered, “could this GIF not be academic? Could we not look at dear wiggle cat and friend Shaq and ask, Why? Why is it funny?”
Is it funny because every cat owner has seen their cat do the same thing?
Is it funny because Shaquille O’Neal was a legend on the basketball court?
Is it funny because of Kazaam, the 1996 classic starring Shaq as a sassy genie?
To give a truly academic answer,
I’ve done time in academia and, despite the pages and pages of research and structuralism and semiotics and seminars and the tiny print in the dusty books and hours spent on JSTOR, I did enjoy it. It gratified my innate tendency to take every little thing to the farthest possible conclusion.
The farthest possible conclusion? Let me demonstrate.
If the above GIF is perceived as funny by cat owners due to their familiarity with the gesture, what is it about the gesture itself that is amusing?
Perhaps it is found amusing because the cat’s posture and dilated pupils indicate extreme eagerness, contrasting with the generally indifferent mood most cats seem to prefer.
The author hypothesizes that the cat owner recognizes this as the pre-pounce wiggle, and the concept of a cat pouncing on Shaq, juxtaposing its tiny size against his legendarily massive bulk, can be characterized as absurd.
However, this does not conclude that the GIF displays features of classic absurdist fiction, the genre of literature in which characters fail to find purpose or meaning in life. Rather, it is absurd in the sense of the familiar dictionary definition: “Wildly unreasonable, illogical, or inappropriate.” (Webster 211.)
What I learned in graduate school is that anything can be academicized. (Is that a word? If not let’s make it one. I’ll call Webster.) Anything can be academicized because of anything you can always ask the question: Why?
Why is this situation this way?
Why is this TV show popular?
Why do people care about the Kardashians?
You can do research into the social, economic, and cultural factors. Who is watching the Kardashians? Who is following them on social media? What do those people have in common? How does psychology factor into this phenomenon?
Boiled down, academics is just asking questions and looking for answers. And then asking more questions about those answers. Because everything is always infinitely more complex than it appears at first glance.
And isn’t that in itself, divorced or not from the ivory tower, a worthwhile pursuit? Is that not what the reputed father of western philosophy did, Socrates himself? He called himself “the gadfly,” because of his persistent question asking of others.
What if we all gadflied? What if the next time your friend said, “Pizza is my favorite food,” you asked, “Why? What do you like about it? Do you prefer thin crust or deep dish? Why that? Where did you first eat pizza? What kind of toppings do you like?”
Okay…maybe we wouldn’t have any friends. But for every ridiculous thing that is academicized (and believe me, there are plenty), there’s another worthy question waiting to be asked. It’s probably not about pizza. But maybe it is. Regardless, there is always more to discover.
I don’t think I am in the minority as someone who wants to truly, deeply understand all the layers and machinations of the world. The further into it we dive, the more beautiful the world is. The more wondrous her people, and the more significant their deeds.