Yesterday afternoon, as the web was sharing its upteenth Baby Yoda meme (there’s a new one, this time involving a cup), Lil Bub passed away. The “perma-kitten,” who captured the internet’s heart circa 2012, was just 8 years old. In an Instagram post, her owner/”dude” Mike Bridavsky posted that even though Bub had suffered from a bone infection (part of the reason for her appearance), “we weren’t expecting her to pass so soon or so abruptly without warning.” Bub died peacefully, he added, in her sleep.
There was something particularly devastating in Bridavsky’s post, though. This: “It is impossible to put into words the profound effect that Bub has had on my life … and on the lives of those of you that have cared for her as if she were your own family.” In the last couple of years, Lil Bub had faded somewhat from the internet’s memory. Similar to Grumpy Cat, she was still an online institution, but one that got drowned out amid weightier, more heated discussions on social media. Remembering her now, and remembering her visit to the WIRED office six years ago, feels like a reversal of the days when the internet would pretty much rally around anything cute. Online discourse is more serious now—these are more serious times—and it’s possible the age of universally loved internet cats is over.
Yes, this is similar to WIRED’s take on the passing of Grumpy Cat, but the feeling holds true. Maybe it’s facing down the end of the decade that made her famous, but Lil Bub’s passing feels like the death of the era of Tumblr, of Mohawk Guy, of a lot of things that made people happy. We’ll always have Beyoncé to inspire joy, and people still post animal photos on social media, but few—if any—creatures have achieved the level of love those felines did.
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Yet Lil Bub was different than Grumpy Cat. Aside from the fact that they both had medical conditions that made them particularly photogenic, Lil Bub tapped into something more caring and careful. Grumpy Cat, as the name suggests, helped fans channel their frustration, their ennui. Lil Bub represented loving something unconditionally, of protecting those less powerful. She was the unofficial mascot of never punching down. The internet could use one of those right now.
Of course, other kinds of celebrities have taken her place. The cat—who once had her own book deal, documentary, album, and talk show—has now given rise to a class of influencers. Most of them are fashionistas, gamers, and fitness gurus. TikTok has provided a couple viral cats, but none with the name recognition of their early-2010s counterparts. The internet still loves cute, but it may never love a cat—or anything—as much as once loved Bub.
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