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You’re about to see a video of a man giving his cat precisely 11,453 stern looks. It’s nearly 50 minutes long, an exercise in doing something absurd and excessive for its own sake. You don’t need to watch the whole thing to get the idea, but it’s there.
Gus Johnson’s cat video stands on its own as a work of, I guess, art? But like all good art, it’s a product of its time and place. In this case: early 2017 and Reddit.There’s been a dire lack of fresh memes in the early days of the new year, but meme-centric Reddit forums have to do something for new content. On the subreddit me_irl, that something is a trend of promising to do outrageous or mundane things in exchange for upvotes. It’s been playing out in increasing layers of irony for the past few weeks, and now it’s peaked with this video.
Before Johnson promised to sternly gaze at his cat, people had made vows like typing the entire script of Jerry Seinfeld’s Bee Movie on a typewriter. These pleas for attention were met with demands that people stop begging for upvotes, and those demands were, in turn, upvoted. Then came ironic posts that mocked the entire conceit, which were also upvoted. Me_irl really lived up to its reputation on Reddit, which is that “those guys will upvote anything.”
But behind all these promises, whose posters each swore “this is not a bamboozle,” there was treachery. The “upvote if” trend started in December, when a user by the name of lordtuts promised to tattoo the top me_irl post of the next day on his buttocks. The subreddit gleefully posted weird stuff they’d like to see displayed on a man’s ass, and lordtuts even got someone claiming to be his wife to assure them that he’d follow through.
Alas, it was all a bamboozle. Lordtuts’ promise was briefly the top post on all of Reddit, bringing him a pile of karma—Reddit’s fake internet points—but no tattoo was forthcoming.
The people of me_irl took lordtuts to Karma Court, a jokey, unofficial way of resolving Reddit etiquette disputes. There, he was found not guilty, with the volunteer judges reasoning that everyone should have known the whole thing was a joke.
But Gus Johnson is no lordtuts. Gus Johnson delivers. For 50 minutes. With his eyes on his cat the entire time. He’s given me_irl something to believe in, however stupid. No bamboozle.
Jay Hathaway is a former senior writer who specialized in internet memes and weird online culture. He previously served as the Daily Dot’s news editor, was a staff writer at Gawker, and edited the classic websites Urlesque and Download Squad. His work has also appeared on nymag.com, suicidegirls.com, and the Morning News.