Cat Lighters but Where Is the Internet?
I am definitely not a cat person and in fact I am allergic to them but when I come upon a spätkauf that carries a selection of lighters tastelessly decorated with the image of cats I can’t help but reach for one. As I choose which cat I want to accompany me for a brief period of time I feel like I am making a companion out of this object. And in fact, this object becomes a part of my daily routine, a ritualized relationship. It is shared among friends and strangers. As it passes in and out of my possession, the oversized eyes of the cat beg the bearer to love and adore it. And in that sense it operates just like a real cat.
I have carried these lighters across borders as gifts for friends and treasured them in my own possession as relics of Berlin in foreign countries. I wonder what it is about these objects that have this seductive power over me. What attracts me to them to begin with? And do they hold this same fascination for others? They function exactly as other lighters do and yet I am inordinately more pleased to have this lighter than any other. I know innately that they have some kitsch value; some unfortunate alarm in my cultural database alerts me of their ironic hipster utility. But is there more to this reaction?
The internet is a conclave of the cat-obsessed. Surely my fascination with these lighters must rest in part on the constant bombardment of images of cats. The desire and obsession they spark in me seem at least to be due to my familiarity with the internet and its cat-crazy denizens. But even more so, I am attracted to the sense of displacement and unnaturalness of the meme-made-manifest. Can this seemingly insignificant object act as an exemplar for our digital culture?
And are cat lighters thus in fact the internet manifest as object?
It is something about the way the image wraps around the total surface of the lighter warps and distorts the face of the cat. The faces of the cats blend into each other as the edge of the lighter meets itself again. These merged cats look like the glitchy tendency of web visuals to alter unnaturally and I am reminded of the cheap tricks of photoshop mirrors used to create the crudely constructed visuals of fast-paced memes. The colors too are gaudy and rich; oversaturated like a cheap greeting card leftover from the 90s in a dollar store. These are the same images that return unsourced to roam the internet in their reincarnated life as lolcatz and their ilk.
Looking at these lighters so intently forces me to make connections. The cat lighters act as a keystone and an entry point into a world of images and experiences. I begin to draw certain things together into a confluence over this pivotal item. I feel that I am forging connections and making visible the unseen strings that tie our world together. I imagine the web as a literal web that extends into our world in the form of the obsessively cute image of cats that I can now hold in my hand. Maybe I have uncovered some essential truths, something larger than the object itself. The visual culture of virtual recycling of images is migrating and influencing our perception of our embodied experience.
Am I undergoing a sort of curatorial crisis, though, in which my cultural criticism has reached a level of absurdity? Do these cat lighters really represent a cultural response to all of these internet things that I am fascinated with? Have I been operating as a curator and performing some trick of intellectual masturbation for the weeks that I have had this discourse with my treasured cat lighter?
In fact, I realize I hate these things. I hate the internet with all of its cats. And yet I can’t help but be drawn to these cat lighters. As my head starts spinning and I light yet another cigarette and I imagine that the things that we hate are the same as the ones that we love.