Arrested Communication

One TV show that is often “giffed” is Arrested Development, and for good reason. The characters in the show are relatable, and have flaws that many might find in themselves. As such, it is easy to find a GIF (graphics interchange format) from this show that relates to one’s life. Often, the exact situations represented in the show are not relatable, since they’re so ridiculous, however the feelings expressed by the characters throughout translate to many different scenarios. This is a perfect example of the phenomenon of GIFs being used as a form of digital social cue. Something in popular culture that is relatable to one person is often relatable to many people, so we immortalize and share these moments as GIFs. As a basic example, what person has never thought this before?

Exactly, no one. The phrase “I’ve made a huge mistake” was not only used repeatedly in the show, but also referenced ad infinitum afterwards. It has been used in every regrettable situation imaginable. However, this is an easy example, where the context must be quite specific. Some GIFs are not so easy to interpret. In many cases, a GIFs meaning depends greatly on the context, and must be interpreted based on said context. Take the following as an example:

It could mean anything, to anyone, in any situation! In the actual show, this GIF is from a scene where the character Buster finally stands up for himself. His father has been trying to push him out of his mother’s house, and Buster decides that his father will be the one to go instead of him. In real life, however, this GIF could be a (bad) comeback in an online flame war, a way of trying to get a friend to do something instead of you, etc. A GIF like this can be used as an attempt to increase media richness (Baym) by communicating with more than just text. However, it is a bad example of a GIF that requires social presence (Baym), because one needs no familiarity with the source of the GIF to properly interpret it. To exemplify this, I’ve decided to create a GIF that requires a great deal of social presence (Baym), as it makes no sense out of the context of the show:

2015-02-08 19_36_56

Here, the character Michael is learning that he just burned down a banana stand with $250,000 lining its walls. His dad George (in the orange jumpsuit) is furious!


Baym, Nancy K. “Communication in Digital Spaces.” Personal Connections in the Digital Age. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2010. PDF. (all gifs found here)


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