What makes lolcats different from the cat porn of the past -- the motivational posters of the '70s and '80s featuring furry kittens hanging from tree limbs, covered in toilet paper or in some other kind of adorable predicament -- is that lolcats aren't trying to be cute. In the cat-based imagery of ages past, cats retain their iconic traits: curiosity, skittishness, the tendency to curl up in a ball and just lie there. Even the YouTube cats of today perform characteristically catlike actions, repeatedly flushing toilets, dragging their paws along piano keys or getting flung off the ends of treadmills.
Lolcats are different in that the characters they portray -- and yes, they are portraying characters -- don't represent cats at all. They're a completely different kind of beast, mischievous (if incompetent) rascals, scheming for cheeseburgers and stopping at nothing to get them.
Take the lolcat that started it all, created by a Hawaiian blogger named Eric Nakagawa, who posted it in January 2007. The image features a cat with a crazed look of pure animal hunger, its eyes maniacal with desire, asking, "I can has cheezburger?" Underneath is the comment: "The Internet's piece de resistance, the website's raison d'etre."
This ur-lolcat created such a sensation that Nakagawa turned it into a blog, spawning not only the eponymous Web site but also a whole mythology. The cheezburger has become the Philosopher's Stone of the lolcats mythos -- the most prized, cherished and elusive object in their universe.