[Be sure to check out part one, two, and three in this series!]
Now, before we finish this series off with GIFs primary function—as a reaction statement—I thought it would be good to tease out some of the myriad other ways that people use them online. A sort of catch-all, broad stroke, miscellaneous section. Because despite what most people tend to assume, GIFs are capable of expressing a lot.
I was procrastinating the other week, as is my wont over summer break (RIP the good months), when I scrolled down to find this on my dash:
What a cutie! Even more-so considering that it looks like this little kitten is jumping right at us. Though this is impressive looking, 3D GIFs actually don’t require the technological expertise that most might assume. Anyone with Photoshop can achieve the effect. You pick/create a GIF that already has a forward moving motion, divide up the GIF (usually into thirds), modify the frames in front of the lines you’ve created, and let the optical illusion do the rest. Still, they’re quite a marvel to look at and have become increasingly popular the last few years, especially on Tumblr. 3D GIFs provide a level of immersion not achieved through a standard GIF. Their purpose (at least so far) is not to provide analysis, a story, or a reaction. Instead they exist on their own, generating feelings of appreciation and, at times, even fear—if the GIF’s movement is designed to act as a jump scare. Here, unlike most GIFs, we’re supposed to take the time to think through the craftsmanship. It just looks so cool.
We see something similar when it comes to GIFs like these.
I mentioned in part one that nowadays GIFs are integral to close analysis. Why bother to rewind the same scene again and again when you could GIF it instead, providing yourself with a short, succinct loop that allows for a detailed examination of the scene in question? But how does this sort of close reading function when we’re not dealing with a narrative? I can’t be sure, but it looks as if the video that proceeded these GIFs was just taken on someone’s phone. It’s not coming from a film or a computer game and even if it was, we’d be hard pressed to come up with a story here unless we knew it already. Thus, GIFs like these aren’t in the, “Let’s GIF Character X’s close up to determine the exact color of his eyes so we can slip that into fic and metas” category, rather they’ve become aesthetic objects in-and-of themselves. Yet the above GIF doesn’t emphasize a technological expertise like 3D GIFs do. It’s still a traditional GIF, just one that’s… pretty. And soothing. Something we want to stare at for a while. As OP says, “it is not very often that I see a gif and experience this strong a desire to put my hand into it.” So there’s an appreciation for the clarity here—the water and movement look real enough that we momentarily forget we’re looking at a screen. There’s no choppy lag or filters here—but the true draw is the content itself. We love this piece because we already love looking at, feeling, and listening to running water, and the movements behind GIFs provide at least one of those sensations while browsing online. You’re likely to find GIFs like this within the stimming community where the mere act of watching a tactile experience (petting fur, playing with goo, sticking your hand in water to touch smooth stones) is enough to provide pleasure and help calm someone down.
Then we have GIF-sets like this.
The wonderful animation applied to these paintings is courtesy of Rino Stefano Tagliafierro (you can watch the short film they’re from here) and once again the format of GIFs helps to highlight each individual moment: when an arrow pierces the skin, the pop of a joint as an arm is wrenched back, flickering shadows representing a woman’s pain. Taliafierro expanded on the stories these paintings convey by crafting the animation, but GIFs section up the film into bite-sized, admirable pieces. As the poster says, these GIFs are “haunting and troubling.” We’re all so worried about kids these days and their obsession with technology (well, I’m not, but as I inch towards 30 I get the feeling I’m supposed to be…) and this is one small example of how we can bring the past into the relatable future. It’s complete BS that kids aren’t interested in art, but there’s no reason why we can’t have the original paintings and new ways of transforming and appreciating them. GIFs are a tool of innovation. They’re one of many new forms of art.
But back to the GIFs that tell stories. Sort of, at least. I had a first class ticket on the Infinity War hype train and amongst all the observations about the film, I found this post to be one of the funniest:
The GIF itself isn’t actually the focus here. It’s just two seconds out of a two hour and forty minute film and I’d wager that most people didn’t pay this moment much mind. Not when there was so much other content to hone in on. Rather, this moment—and by extension this GIF—becomes notable due to the commentary. Thanos just “lays into” Tony and his famous suit does “fuck all" to help him. They’re like a bouncer and a drunk guy. We could, in the land of exaggeration, get a whole dissertation of descriptions like this and honestly I’d read it. This GIF has over 70,000 notes because it’s achieving so many things at once. Tumblr is a website that focuses a lot on re-telling stories and re-describing events in comical, forceful ways. Stories have flare and craft to them. They’re less, “this happened, then this happened” and more like this.
“I left my body and ascended onto another plane and I screamed into the abyss of that plane.” “I can’t even.” “You can come join me.” This wonderful little tale is actually mild by Tumblr’s usual standards, but you get the idea. What we can define broadly as Internet slang/language reigns supreme in these stories, descriptions that are emotionally evocative and often incomprehensible to those not already immersed in this culture. You don’t love someone, you stan one (1) good boy. You’re not determined, you’re going to face god and yeet backwards into hell. That’s essentially what this GIF is doing, embellishing this tiny moment into something entertaining for an entirely different reason.
As said though, that’s not the only thing it’s accomplishing. Tumblr also likes “cinematic parallels”—scenes from wildly different stories and media that are somehow seen as connected—and we get that here with Thanos’ punch proving reminiscent of “that giant mushroom GIF.”
(Confession: I have no idea what this is from. What game is this?? I’m so intrigued and wonderfully confused.)
If you look through the tags on this post you’ll find that some fans see this as a shitpost (that is, a post that is entertaining in a random and often disorganized way), some are labeling it as anti-Tony (no doubt saved to be used as a future reaction GIF), and others expand on the description by adding a bit of their own. User Snarthurt writes, “that pitiful fucking block djkssk he doesn’t even TRY he knows his ass gettin laid the fuck out,” expressing their amusement and their approval at the original post. Some GIFs unexpectedly become something more in the hands of a good writer.
Similarly, we have writers adding the tiniest details that make funny GIFs even better. I particularly like this Star Wars set:
Whereas the Tony post embellishes a single punch, this set simplifies a complex situation into just a few descriptors. “Screaming.” Yes, Han is screaming. Our dashing action hero shrieking in panic is funny enough, but having the obvious joke pointed out to us somehow makes it funnier—in a way that contrasts the idea that explaining a joke somehow ruins it. (It doesn’t. Be inclusive!) “Screaming continues.” Fair enough lol. Then we get an interpretation of physical comedy as “shock” and Han’s frantic escape is labeled as a “change in plans.” We have a slightly different type of humor overlaying the scene and though there isn’t anything here that we don’t already know, having it laid out so bluntly for us is a joke in-an-of itself.
Moving away from jokes and embellishments, we have the GIFs that tell us more about the poster than they do the series. Sets focusing on specific characters or “choose between” asks are incredibly popular and help tell mutuals and other followers what OP prizes in a show, a story, or even a person. Who’s your favorite? What’s your type? What scenes do you think best describe them? A fair amount of thought goes into sets like this one.
Though the note just says “Jurassic World” it’s clear that for OP the heart of the film is the character Owen—or at least, he’s one aspect worthy of focusing on here. The chosen scenes likewise (presumably) showcase some of OP’s favorite parts in the film while still maintaining a common GIF-set format. Notice that the GIF’s alternate between those with dialogue and those without. Perhaps all your favorite moments do contain dialogue, but that would mess up the balance of the set. Thus, actions like Owen hiding under his vehicle and riding beside his raptors become focal points as well, reminding us that he’s a man of action as well as witty comebacks—“Do you hear yourself when you talk?”
I’m also a particular fan of sets that, rather than focusing on a particular character, highlight a whole series in a way that emphasizes its best qualities. GIFs have become incredibly complex in a rather short amount of time, resulting in our ability to not just add text within the GIFs, but alongside them as well.
(Seriously, this next set is too complicated to get in actual GIF form here. I highly recommend that you check it out rather than relying on my awful screenshots.)
“Give me a show with badass women and soft loving boys. With genuinely platonic and supportive friendships. That calls out injustice, celebrates inclusivity, is unapologetically silly, unapologetically sweet, depicts healthy relationships, and is all about love & family.” This could have easily been a tumblr text post with a final line of, “Give me Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” yet the choice of GIFs celebrates these qualities in a way there mere words never could. The text itself is large and eye-catching, surrounded by not one, but multiple examples of each characteristic. Fandom has always coincided with analysis—the mere existence of transformative works points to critique as well as celebration—and here we have a poster providing evidence for their argument that B99 is a thoroughly excellent show. Rather persuasive evidence too, in my opinion. It’s one thing to have friends and followers yelling about how great B99 is. It’s something else entirely to have its greatness condensed and handed to you on a bright, shiny platter.
Finally, let’s just acknowledge the work GIFs do to draw viewers’ attention to parallels and commonalities that we might otherwise miss. Warning though, SPOILERS for The Americans season finale if you haven’t seen it already.
……..still with me? Cool. This is such a simple thing, but it’s one of my favorite types of GIF-sets: the ones that make you go, “Oh my god they did that.”
GIFs help highlight excellent writing (or, at times, some pretty lucky repetition). Here we’re reminded of Philip’s warning to himself and Elizabeth all the way back in season one, only to realize that their late nights did, in fact, come back to harm them. The show doesn’t acknowledge this in any heavy-handed manner. They don’t have Philip saying, “Hey remember how worried I was about this five years ago, nudge-nudge, wink-wink?” The show just leaves this little moment-–a connecting thread—dangling for us to pick up on. Or not. But if you did miss that little detail, GIFs like this help bring them to the surface.
What else? Plenty else, but this post is long enough as it is. Suffice to say that GIFs are incredibly, wonderfully versatile. Want to say something online, be it an interesting parallel or just the visual equivalent of, “Look at this awesome thing I can do!”? Hell, want to say something horrible that will lead to a kid quitting Twitter? Chances are you can say it with a GIF. The possibilities are endless.
On that only vaguely happy note, stay tuned for the final section on the one and only reaction GIFs!
GIF #1: http://mrgoldsdearie.tumblr.com/post/175221739171/t36mafia-cat