A GIF or Graphics Interchange Format is a bitmap image format that has become a widespread practice on the internet in recent years. Gifs have a number of uses; they can serve as logos, internet artwork, small animations, low resolution TV/film clips, or even store data. In blogs or other casual forums, gifs are typically used to make a statement, reflect on a funny moment, or share a pop culture reference. Generally animated, gifs are most regularly used amongst college students to make a snarky comment or prove a point in a social media context, such as tumblr or reddit.
Gifs have a bizarre role on the internet in that they tend to immortalize trivial moments, capturing and emphasizing weird facial expressions of our favorite celebrities or awkward dance moves of our favorite singers. These moments normally go unnoticed by the masses; however, a blogger can turn anything – say, Obama’s weird sneeze at a charity event – into an animation and suddenly, this sneeze becomes an inescapable meme that everyone’s seen, thrown text over, or linked to in some comment about unfortunate bodily functions.
Here’s a good example of a silly pop culture gif, taken from The Fresh Prince of Belair (click it to play):
Then there are gifs that are created solely from internet content, and often mean more to the user than those he/she shares them with. These gifs are generated from artwork or text, and often serve as a form of personal expression. A classic example of this is this panda, often seen on tumblr as an expression of excitement or celebration.
When it comes to GIFs, I’m not sure if they can be classified as electronic literature or not. This semester seems to be dedicated to this working definition and I keep finding myself on the internet questioning if something belongs in the canon. This is perhaps a complicated example because while we have agreed that elit is comprised of works that are manufactured solely to be consumed digitally, we never decided what components are acceptable in its creation. Gifs are meant to be consumed online and are programmed as such; however, a majority of gifs are animations of content that was not originally purposed for the internet. We also never fully decided what comprised literature.
I personally am inclined to have a loose interpretation of this as well as most other things in life. I don’t think literature has to include words, but rather is merely a form of creative expression. When used to enhance meaning, provide insight on popular culture, or just make a funny statement, I think gifs can be valued as a form of elit. Not so much in a classic or obvious way, but rather in that they provide context for here and now, a way to look at our recent history and identify trends, fads, and entertainment, and in such, are a valuable form of digital consumption. I also tend to romanticize gifs because I think the concept is ironic; people spend 5+ minutes turning a trivial half second into meaningful animation. Maybe it’s silly, but in a day and age where my grandparents keep emphasizing to “stop and notice the small stuff” I’d like to argue that our generation does! Just in a different way than my bird watching, star gazing grandpa.
On a side note, I would love to know how to make my own gifs, so if anyone wants to do a tutorial blog, I think that could be really sweet!