What Memes Mean: Pascal, LOLcats, And Distraction

Each Wednesday in What Memes Mean, Kirk Bozeman questions the significance, humor, and subtexts of viral videos, memes, and other Internet fads.

Any discussion of the spiritual disciplines that I have ever been part of has inevitably emphasized a major problem for the modern spiritual life: distraction. This is fair. Constant noise, media, and anxiety hinder our study, thinking, and prayer, and often just waste our time.

But because of this sort of talk, distraction gets a bad rap. I’d argue that distraction can be a good, God-honoring, emotionally healthy activity, depending on how we distract ourselves and what we are distracting ourselves from.

In Pascal’s Pensées, the thinker muses over why people spend so much time on “diversion” — why we insist on games and hunting instead of spending time in quiet contemplation. He concludes that humanity’s fallen state has caused a deep distress and unhappiness in all of us that we simply do not want to face.

“To bid a man live quietly is to bid him live happily… This is to misunderstand nature. As men who naturally understand their own condition avoid nothing so much as rest, so there is nothing they leave undone in seeking turmoil.”

Pascal further clarifies: due to our fallen state, diversion or distraction makes sense, and can even be a good thing when done correctly – when we understand that it is simply self-forgetting fun and not the key to real, lasting happiness.

“…we are wrong in blaming them [i.e. those who divert themselves]. Their error does not lie in seeking excitement, if they seek it only as a diversion; the evil is that they seek it as if the possession of the objects of their quest would make them really happy.”

Enter LOLcats, one of my favorite internet distractions. You’re probably familiar with it, but if not, it’s pictures of cats. Like, really, really silly pictures of cats — with really silly captions. There is lots of bad grammar and poor spelling involved because, obviously, cats use really bad grammar and are poor spellers. All content is user-submitted, which means part of the fun is sifting the brilliant from the banal. I could go through them for hours… and have. LOLcats and sites like it are fun, healthy, humorous distractions that can add a dimension of enjoyment and self-forgetfulness that our world-weary hearts desperately need.

Oh, yeah — these cats are all very interested in procuring cheeseburgers. Just so you know.

Distract yourself for a few minutes with something silly today. We are broken and self-centered, and we need to get our minds off ourselves. Let’s call it a spiritual discipline. Laugh at something silly, share something fun with someone on your Facebook page or Twitter feed, and generally participate in something ridiculous for the glory of God. And make sure it has cats in it.

About Kirk Bozeman
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