Kubrick and the Cats

Park fig1 Park fig2

With whiskers, pointy ears, a fake eyelash, and a bowler hat, Catwork Orange (figure 1) is an amusing parody of the poster for Stanley Kubrick’s film 1971 A Clockwork Orange (figure 2).

Set against a solid, desaturated orange background, the image contains two elements: a feline version of the main character from A Clockwork Orange, and the parody’s title in the film’s iconic typeface. This parodied image has transformed not only the visual elements of the original poster, but also its function; the appropriation serves more as a visual entertainment than an advertisement. Found on a t-shirt website, the image has a much more specific audience as well as less flashy attributes. Thus, the key element that cannot be analyzed merely through a visual comparison is the artist’s intention: why would the creator of A Catwork Orange parody the poster of an iconic film through a cat theme? In order to figure this out, it is necessary to study the cultural influence and status of both the film and “cat” culture. With its controversy and popular director, A Clockwork Orange has stirred society since its original release, while felines dominate the online world today to the extent that they have become the pets of the Internet. Catwork Orange thus merges these two popular forms: the film that has so often been appropriated and the cat meme that appropriates.

A Clockwork Orange’s popularity and influence are crucial to understanding why the film’s poster was used as the basis of the t-shirt parody. Kubrick’s film portrays the metamorphosis of the protagonist, or the antihero, Alex Delarge as his morals and taste for violence are forcefully altered by the inhumane Ludovico treatment. The bloody and shocking scenes that pack the film caused the film to be banned from several countries; it is still forbidden in certain locations such as Ireland, Singapore, and South Korea. Based on Anthony Burgess’s famous 1962 novel with the identical title that has also been enveloped in controversies, A Clockwork Orange did not take long to reach popularity among cinephiles. Since its debut, the film has been nominated for four Oscars and has been referenced in multiple popular U.S. television shows, such as South Park, The Simpsons, and Phineas and Ferb (IMDB). Even in the music industry, famous musicians such as David Bowie and U2 have referenced the film.

Park fig3Consider the appropriation of the film in The Simpsons, for example. Bart Simpson, one of the protagonists of the show, dresses as Alex and mimics an alternate version of the A Clockwork Orange poster. He does this in an image titled A Clockwork Lemon (figure 3) and in an episode of The Simpsons titled “Dog of Death.” Bart is presented with the iconic features of Alex: a bowler hat, a fake eyelash, and an icepick, all featured in Catwork Orange. The poster also has an overlaid title in the same typeface seen in A Catwork Orange. This image is not only an additional example of how the original poster has been appropriated, but also a paradigm for showing the prevalence of Kubrick’s film in popular American visual culture. The Simpsons, debuted in 1989, has run and reached its 25th season in September 2013 and it is currently the longest running American sitcom (IMDB). With such a popular show appropriating and even dedicating an entire episode to the film, it can be concluded that A Clockwork Orange has managed to become a widespread object of appropriation.

 

A part of why A Clockwork Orange is so popular in modern American society can ultimately be attributed to Stanley Kubrick’s persona, as his peculiarity and shaded charisma attracts many curious individuals. The popularity of Stanley Kubrick can be traced to his avant-garde cinematography and the mysterious shroud he has always been wrapped in. According to Robert J. E. Simpson, Kubrick was “removed from the public gaze, offering a public persona that was often likened in tabloid shorthand to an eccentric reclusive genius” (Simpson, 232). Simpson continues to explain that Kubrick attempted to conceal his private life to an extent that he had created a separate public identity in which he would repeat the same lines in different interviews. With such a cryptic figure directing popular and unconventional films, many fans and viewers were very interested in finding out more about him. Offering very limited interviews and public statements, the director of acclaimed films such as 2001: Space Odyssey and Eyes Wide Shut has peaked his fans’ curiosities. The emergence of digital media has also promoted the cult of Kubrick to become even more devout. As Simpsons explains later in his essay, the “popularity of home cinema means the ability to view and re-view films; the development of DVD means endless extra features, such as alternate edits of films, deleted scenes, production stills, commentary audio tracks from critics, “making of” featurettes, and the like” (Simpson, 234). Thus, Kubrick’s desire to have discreet and minimal publicity has backfired with growing fans, which could be mirrored to almost a cult. In addition, stories of him sold rapidly after his death, such as Frederic Raphael’s Eyes Wide Open. His legacy and the popularity of A Clockwork Orange merely grew even more posthumously.

Informing Catwork Orange is also the popularity of cats. From the civilization of ancient Egypt to the modern culture of the Park fig4World Wide Web, cats have always been popular subjects. Especially on the Internet, cat memes have become a phenomenon for the past several years. How prevalent has appropriating popular culture into feline theme become? The image from the trendy meme website www.icanhas.cheezburger.com is an excellent example (figure 4). Though Catwork Orange presents a caricatured cat dressed as Alex, figure 4 presents a series of different cats dressed as various popular cultural references. Starting from the left, there are appropriations of Batman, Lady Gaga, Harry Potter, David Bowie, and an Ewok from Star Wars. According to research by Terri Thornton, one reason why cats have become popular is that, “people who have children later in life are more likely to have pets -often cats- and often several at a time…cats are also more complex and expressive than dogs and the computer screen makes the most of those often-subtle faces” (Thornton). Cats have captivated modern American culture to a point that 10,000 people each year attend the Cat Internet Video Festival in Minneapolis, Boston, San Diego, Memphis, and Austin, with Oakland, California also restaging the festival this past year (Thornton).

Because Catwork Orange is presented on a t-shirt website, it is important to know how cat memes are circulated throughout the Internet. Originally created by Richard Dawkins to describe, “small units of culture that spread from person to person by copying or imitation”, memes have become the most popular Internet gag (Shifman, 2). With myriad memes that flow in and out of the Internet constantly, one prevalent meme is LOLCats. Generally depicted by a picture of a cat with an intentionally butchered and misspelled caption that refers to the cat’s situation, this name was one of the first examples of “image macros” or “a more general form of pictures with overlaid text” (Shifman, 111). The popularity of cat memes on the Internet can be split between the media in which these memes have been distributed and the types of people that promote the images. LOLCats’ popularity originates from the website mentioned above, www.icanhas.cheezburger.com, launched in 2007. According to a study by Kate Miltner, audiences that generally promote these cat memes are distributed among, “CheezFrenz (who like LOLCats because they love cats), MemeGeeks (who love LOLCats because of Internet memes), and casual users (all the rest, mostly composed of the “bored at work” population)” (Shifman, 111). With the majority of Internet users fitting into one of these categories and the memes heavily promoted by such websites, also including reddit or 4chan, there are ample opportunities and media for individuals to appropriate popular culture into feline themes. Catwork Orange is but one of many examples of individuals taking the chance to create a popular cultural reference to a cat theme; it is part of a much larger cat phenomenon.

Catwork Orange is a result of merging two popular culture references, A Clockwork Orange and Internet cat memes. A Clockwork Orange has made an appearance in multiple media due to its controversial content and the cryptic allure of its director. On the other hand, cats and memes that appropriate popular cultures have seen a spike in popularity in recent years and have prevailed throughout the Internet. Thus the artist created Catwork Orange for an audience that was both a user of the Internet as well as someone that was familiar with A Clockwork Orange and its popularity. At first, the target audience for the t-sheet parody seems very narrow in that one would have to be a fan of both A Clockwork Orange and cat memes. Yet, my research shows that the spheres of influence created by these two popular cultures are very wide. Capitalizing on the popularity of both the film and virtual felines, Catwork Orange serves as a medium that brings two different generations together: one that grew up with Stanley Kubrick’s infamous film and a younger generation that is infused with the World Wide Web. Was the artist aware of the potential for a large audience the image would have? The artist’s intention for conflating such appropriations could be backed by marketing desires. Thus, Catwork Orange could further be understood as part of a discourse of on the socioeconomic influence of online images.

— Harry Park

Works cited

Simpson, Robert J. “Whose Stanley Kubrick? The Myth, Legacy and Ownership.” In Stanley Kubrick: Essays on His Films and Legacy, edited by Gary D. Rhodes, 232-244. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company Inc., 2008.

Shifman, Limor. Memes in Digital Culture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2014.

Thornton, Terri. “Why Do Cats Dominate the Internet?”. PBS.org. http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2013/05/why-do-cats-dominate-the-internet. May 13, 2013.

A Clockwork Orange, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0066921.

The Simpsons, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0096697.

Illustrations

Figure 1. Iceberg Tees, Catwork Image, 2011, http://www.icebergtees.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/catwork-orange.jpg (accessed February 24, 2014).

Figure 2. IMP Awards, A Clockwork Orange poster, 1971, http://www.impawards.com/1971/clockwork_orange_ver2_xlg.html (accessed February 24, 2014).

Figure 3. Deviant Art, Claudia’s Clockwork Lemon, 2010,  http://th08.deviantart.net/fs71/PRE/i/2010/346/2/e/a_clockwork_lemon_by_claudia_r-d34qqsq.jpg (accessed April 10, 2014).

Figure 4. Montage from I Can Haz Cheezburger, ca. 2014, https://i.chzbgr.com/original/6552004608/1BDE92AD/1 (accessed April 10, 2014).

Comments

  1. Cat memes and why they are funny certainly does not make any sense. Adding on to that, with captions often butchered on these images, a major factor on why these memes are perceived entertaining is definitely the absurdity of these memes. Cats are unpredictable and fickle and those characteristics would often create a cult fan base for them, especially on the Internet. Thanks for mentioning that you like the memes despite you not being a cat fan. My paper certainly assumes that most people love cats.
    Here’s a cat picture:
    http://i.imgur.com/iCgConA.gif

  2. John:
    Thanks for complimenting on the overlapping spheres of influence. It certainly is an important point in my paper that I really wanted to focus on. Again, there are so many reasons why cats are popular on the internet. To add on to the comment I replied to Dana, there certainly was a lot of research materials and online articles on why cats dominate the internet. If you are interested, here are the links to some of the articles I found:

    http://mashable.com/2010/10/21/why-does-the-web-love-cats/

    http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2013/05/why-do-cats-dominate-the-internet/

    http://www.npr.org/2014/04/01/297147317/scratch-that-one-cats-struggle-with-internet-stardom?utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=npr&utm_campaign=nprnews&utm_content=04012014

    Of course, it also boils down to the fact that the Internet community makes no sense. Here’s another picture of a Katze.
    http://i.imgur.com/PJ1HWmH.jpg

  3. Dana:
    Thanks for the feedback! I did find a lot of materials on why cats might be popular on the internet, but this took up so many pages on my paper that I had to condense and cut out a lot of things out. Some reasons include from already popular websites posting cats to simply coincidence and luck. Researching and finding connections between the film and cat was very fun to do.
    Here’s a picture of a cat: http://i.imgur.com/zMpun.jpg

  4. What I find to be most interesting about your first two images is their apparent similarity, yet signify very different things. To a viewer who had never seen Kubrick’s film might assume from the bottom of the poster that A Clockwork Orange is as comical as the Catwork Orange appropriation. Your analysis of the two images is very interesting, as is your analysis of the internet cat discourse. I don’t get why cat pictures are funny, I don’t think of myself as a fan of them, I don’t even like cats, but cat memes still make me laugh. The question of why cat memes are so popular on the internet stumps me too, but maybe that’s what makes them funny: they just makes no sense!

  5. I find the use of a combination of the cat in reference to internet icons and reference to the cult classic film A Clockwork Orange to be a genius method to access two generally overlapping spheres of influence on the internet. I agree that there is a general interest on the internet in movies that have a cult following and this interest also overlaps with the interest in memes on the internet. Also I agree that the general appropriation of serious images for comedic purposes is widespread throughout the internet and supports your ideas surrounding the uses of appropriations of serious subject manner in this aspect. On the other hand I would like to know more of why cats are so popular on the internet, I agree with the points you present on it, however I think that you could have perhaps said more about. However in general the internet community makes no sense and the appearance of things like cat memes on the internet generally has no rhyme or reason to it.

  6. Its very interesting that the creator of the appropriation of the image decided to merge such opposite things as an iconic film, and an animal turned internet- sensation. I have seen the film, and find it very funny that the creator of the appropriation would decide to bring these two things together into one image. Although you speak about it briefly, I am still wondering exactly what it is that has made cats so popular on the internet! Unfortunately, I think that’s a tough question to answer, but you do a good job explaining your take on it. You’re paper shows thorough research, and even if I hadn’t seen the film, the essay still would have strongly conveyed and supported your thesis statement to me.

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