Gifs! Immortalizing the Small Stuff

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!

  3 comments for “Gifs! Immortalizing the Small Stuff

  1. March 5, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    Animated GIFs are funny. I guess their advantage is portability, but it’s odd how pervasive they become as a kind of vernacular of their own, particularly for tumblr (it seems). I’m thinking of reaction GIFs in particular, when a user can post a specific GIF to convey a response to a conversation, as a substitute for actually making a textual or verbal comment. These happen on reddit, too.

    I know there are various sites you can use to make animated GIFs out of videos. You can also use GIMP. For my part, I’d like to get good at making these so-called cinegraph GIFs.

  2. George Bowles
    March 14, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    I’m also a pretty big fan of GIFs. They are sort of like tweeting because you have to be careful and deliberate with the animation. It has to be short and sweet. You can’t make a motion picture film and you don’t want it to be too choppy and short (although sometimes it can’t hurt). They are great at getting a reaction from people and it often doesn’t even matter if they’ve seen the original content as a whole.

  3. ebrennan
    March 19, 2012 at 9:15 am

    Cinegraph GIFs are super cool, because they are only partially animated. They’re regarded as like high class GIFs in forums and such. People have whole blogs dedicated to their cinegraph GIFs. I’m looking into learning how to make those, too. I did make some regular GIFs finally, and it was really easy.

    That’s a good comparison – GIFs being like tweeting. I personally am one of those people who substitute making a textual comment with a GIF. I like it because it conveys tone much better than just text does, and sometimes on the internet people think you’re attacking their ideas rather that just being snarky, which is where the GIF comes in.

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