Contemporary Legend/Prank

“There was this website online called Bonzai Cats that was really controversial for awhile.  No one could tell whether it was a practical joke or not, but basically it was about this Japanese guy who was selling pets called Bonzai Cats.  These cats were treated horribly, put in cages and fed through tubes, and given muscle relaxants and then shoved into different bottles so they would morph into these really bizarre shapes.  Then the cats are sold as souveneirs.  Some people got so outraged by this that a huge petition was created to stop the guy from making Bonzai Cats, even though no on even knew for a fact if it was even possible to do something like this.  The problem was that there were pictures posted online that show what a Bonzai Cat looks like.  But no one could determine whether the pictures were Photoshopped or edited to make them look like they were being mistreated.”

The controversy over the Bonzai Cats hoax shows the power and dangers of the internet.  Because everyone with internet access could view the Bonzai Cat site, it quickly became a topic of conversation (and anger) for many people.  However, because it was online and not able to be viewed live, no one could actually verify if such a practice actually existed.  Even so, the shock and outrage that many viewers of the website shared united people and actually led to the creation of a petition and legal action against the alleged Bonzai Cat operation.  This group formation eventually exposed the Bonzai Cat hoax, which was actually run by a group of MIT students.  While this hoax is pretty clever and humorous on one hand, it is also dangerous because it convinced so many people of something that was not true.  Also, it may have opened the door for copy-cat hoax websites that could potentially manipulate audiences into believing in something that is not true.  Fortunately, in the case of Bonzai Cats, the public was united in order to fight against animal cruelty.  This shows how society values fair and humane treatment of living creatures and is willing to stand up and fight if those values are violated.  However, it is interesting that the people who fought against Bonzai Cats did not invest more time verifying the legitimacy of the website and company before creating a petition.  Perhaps this is because Bonzai Cats was created a few years ago when technology like Photoshop was relatively new.  Many people probably thought that images could not be manipulated in extreme ways and considered the photos concrete proof of animal cruelty.

Dylan said that he first heard about Bonzai Cats when he was at a friend’s house and his friend showed him the website.  He said that the pictures looked very realistic, but he still could not believe that it was physically possible to deform the cats in such a drastic way without killing them.  More so than that, Dylan doubted the cats could legally be sold as “art”, since it was such an obvious demonstration of animal cruelty.  For Dylan, critical analysis of the website allowed him to make a rational judgment that the website must be a prank.  However, many viewers were less sure and believed that Bonzai Cats actually existed.  This varying level of belief shows how the website was able to perpetuate this prank and turn it into a legend that was not readily verifiable.

Like Dylan, I was initially shocked when I saw the Bonzai Cats website, but then decided that it must be fake.  Even though a part of me was fascinated by the idea of growing cats as decoration, I could not actually believe that something so cruel would actually be posted online and used to generate sales.  I think that the younger generations that are more familiar with computers had an easier time discriminating this site, whereas adults and people that had not used a computer often were more likely to be convinced by the images posted online.