Mar 2, 2013

Hello Kitty – SMILE!

 by Chris Vlahonasios

Cat pictures have always been very popular online with entire websites and YouTube channels dedicated to them. Yet, no-one has fused them with Orthodoxy – until now.

Less than 7 days old, the Grumpy Orthodox Cat (“GOC”) meme page has taken the Facebook Orthodox community by storm. A spin-off from the well known Grumpy Cat memes, this ‘Orthodox’ cat is called Todor Savaş, the Grumpy Cat’s Eastern cousin.

GOC’s appeal is built upon the notion that people like to subjectify animals, especially pets, with human-like personalities based on facial expressions and behaviour which resembles that of humans. GOC’s style of humour is meant to appear at first negative and cynical, hence ‘grumpy’, but it is a satirical page which is intended to be light-hearted and based on exaggerated observational experiences. Compared with other Orthodox meme pages, they each have a different approach. The Eastern Orthodox Ryan Gosling page (EORG) relies on the inherited popularity and handsomeness of Ryan Gosling. These factors, including the rumour created by the page that Mr Gosling may be Orthodox, all work together to make EORG’s memes so entertaining. EORG’s humour is not satirical like GOC, but combines professional photos shoots with Orthodox subject-matter to produce a “cheesy” style of humour that is also informative. The Hyperdox Herman page (HH) differs to GOC and EORG in that it seeks to spark greater reactions from its readers. Its jokes are not as comical, tending to be more off-beat.

GOC’s exponential growth has been nothing short of remarkable and might become more popular than EORG. Its first meme was posted on 24 February 2013. Up until the 1st March, the statistics are:
·        first day received 275 ‘likes’
·        787 total page ‘likes’
·        600 people were talking about it
·        a reach of over 34,000 people

To break it down, within a 5-day period GOC accumulated about 160 ‘likes’ a day – this surpasses the EORG page, which averaged 140 ‘likes’ during its peak. The page’s ‘reach’ is the total number of people who are potentially exposed to the page. This means each of those 787 people who ‘liked’ the page have an average of 43 Facebook friends who get notified. However, at this stage GOC has not yet achieved the same mass of ‘people talking about the page’ as EORG which achieved a record of over 3,000. In comparison, EORG currently has 4,219 ‘likes’ which it achieved within its first 4-month period since it started on 1st November 2012. GOC has achieved almost quarter of that quote in less than a week.

EORG’s most popular age group is 18-24yr, whilst GOC’s is 35-44yr. This is most likely due to EORG’s use of a youthful and well-known American actor compared with GOC’s generic frowning cat. As for HH, which has operated for nearly two years, it has only gained 2,120 ‘likes’ with its most popular age in the 25-34yr group. Perhaps the reason why HH’s age group is in-between GOC’s and EORG’s is because its memes tend to be more cynical and reliant on ‘funny’ photos. HH’s ‘midway results’ might help explain why GOC lacks that younger market – perhaps they are not as interested in cats as they are in movie heart-throbs.

However, all meme pages will experience a tapering off after initial exponential growth followed by a regular cyclical period of peaks and troughs, pending on current social factors and trends which affect these pages’ popularity – ie. Ryan Gosling getting married. However, pages less dependent on popular culture and trends, such as HH, seem to experience very gradual growth over the long term.

In short, GOC’s results are still outstanding considering not even one week has passed and each new ‘like’ or ‘share’ helps expose the page to more people. Based on current figures, it is predicted the page will reach over 1,000 ‘likes’ by the 5th March 2013.

The mind behind GOC
The creator is Jodie Anna, a Canadian from the province of Ontario in the Kitchener-Waterloo area; home of the Blackberry phone! Jodie works as a customer service officer at a mortgage company and is fluent in English and French. A cat-lover, she has a cat named ‘Pharaoh’ and 3 month old Australian Shepherd puppy, Tilly. Jodie is married with three daughters and is a convert to Orthodoxy.

Her journey back home to Orthodoxy was long but filled with many “coincidences”. She is the daughter of a Roman Catholic father and a Lutheran mother. Growing up she attended an Evangelical Lutheran church along with her mother and brother where she was baptised and confirmed.

During her teenage years Jodie started attending an Evangelical church with friends, in which, she considered herself “born again” and was re-baptised. Over the years she attended different Evangelical Protestant churches. It was during this time she met Richard, who would later become her husband. Richard had been brought up Orthodox, his father was Ukrainian, but started attending a Protestant church with Jodie when dating.

Richard then went to a seminary for a Masters degree and became an associate pastor at an Evangelical church. However, at the height of the Global Financial Crisis, he was let go in January of 2009. It was during this difficult time Richard and Jodie re-evaluated their faith. Upon moving when Richard found a new job the family started visiting an Orthodox mission church in Waterloo. However, prior to this engagement with Orthodoxy, the children had been baptised and communed in the Anglican Church, which occurred in May 2009. Yet, certain things were in motion long before these events unfolded.

While Richard was at the seminary he did not quite forget his Orthodox roots. While studying, Richard became more and more interested in the ancient Church during 2004 to 2006.
He put up a couple of icons in our home, but I was pretty oblivious at that time! I was a staunch Protestant. When our experience in ministry in the Evangelical church turned out to be hurtful and disappointing, I was completely disillusioned with any type of church. We chose an Anglican church to attend, but my heart was only half in it.

Richard urged Jodie to investigate Orthodoxy. She then read "The Orthodox Way" by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware as well as some articles on antiochian.org
I discovered I agreed with 99% of it and figured that God would help me reconcile the rest if I just kept an open mind. I became convinced that the Orthodox Church was the true Church of Christ and his apostles. Our wonderful priest helped me a lot with my concerns and answered my questions. I also learned a lot from listening to Ancient Faith Radio, especially podcasts by Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, Dcn Michael Hyatt and Fr. James Early

It was then Jodie and her 3 daughters became catechumens in the summer of 2009 (Canadian summer) and were Chrismated on January 10th 2010.

Since then, three years have passed in which Jodie and her family have been practicing and learning more about the Faith. However, the idea for the GOC page came at a very emotional time:
We got some very difficult news about the health of a close family member on Friday evening (Feb 22nd) and my way of coping was to distract myself with humour. We started making jokes, simply as a diversion and to keep us all from crying. I got the idea for Grumpy Orthodox Cat and created a meme just for fun.  My husband and I thought of some more, so I set up the page.

The template image was created in Microsoft Paint then the meme was generated using the PC-friendly Picassa.
My husband and I brainstorm ideas. Sometimes I will tweak his idea, sometimes he will tweak mine and then we agree what will work best. Sometimes we each just come up with our own though.

The very first GOC post was about Todor’s dislike for baklava.
[As] the page is a spin off of the Grumpy Cat "Tardar Sauce" memes…[a] common line in those ones is either "I tried ___ once, it was awful" or the cat just says "NO" to everything.  I love Baklava...seriously who wouldn't like it? It's one of the perks of attending an Orthodox church!!  So I thought it would be cute if GOC didn't like it.

For Jodie, the success of the page has been overwhelmingly. Everyday she receives personal messages from people around the world writing how much they enjoy the meme.
It makes me so happy to make others laugh and smile. I know that laughter lights up different areas of the brain than other types of interactions and I hope that it will be a good way for people to engage with Orthodoxy.

Although the page’s intention is to be humorous, a tiny minority have misinterpreted the memes as being negative. The goal of the page has always been to “hold a mirror up to ourselves so we can see our own grumpiness and how silly it is”, said Jodie, “I listen and I care about how people feel. I've tried to adapt the page in ways according to feedback.” As a result, Happy Orthodox Dog memes was created.
The page needed some more lightness and GOC needed a counter-balance.  I created her for those people who have a different sense of humour and who don't resonate as much with the satire of GOC.

Both types of memes have been well received. Every creator of a meme page has to make adjustments in order to cater for the diversity of readers’ taste in comedy. As for Jodie’s favourite:
I really like the one that says ‘I put you on my prayer list...under "enemies"’ because it shows how a Biblical concept (praying for ones enemies) can be twisted into something ugly and un-Christlike.

Due to the great success of GOC, Jodie has recently created a monthly event: Share Day. The purpose of the day is to allow one reader the chance to share about themselves which will be posted onto the GOC timeline. This event will happen on the first Saturday of every month, with the first one happening on 2nd March 2013. The reader is encouraged to share something about their Orthodox Faith, their pets or their family.
I wanted to allow other ways to share and a day when the readers can be the stars of the page… [W]hen I see each person "liking" the page, I am sincerely interested in them and would love to know a little more about them.

From very recent humble beginnings GOC has grown into a medium which even its creator never expected. As a means to help deal with unfortunate news, it has become something inspiration. It provides a daily does of humour and well-written satire to Orthodox Christians worldwide. It is a means of interacting with the ancient Faith in the digital world. However, the impact of this page on its creator cannot be overlooked.
I am definitely feeling the love and I am having fun making the memes and laughing as I do it. It also brings me joy to think that someone might look deeper into Orthodox Christianity after viewing the Grumpy Orthodox Cat page.

Facebook memes offer users a unique opportunity. It empowers ordinary people, literally overnight, to take a simple idea, with a twist, and make it into something which the whole world can enjoy. It enables Orthodox from opposite ends of the global to engage with others who they will never meet. May God grant the GOC page every success and continue to reach for the skies and beyond. Hopefully, one day, Todor will look at the brighter side of life!


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