If you are an expert user of social media, then you’ve probably heard of — or used — a GIF.
An acronym for graphic interchange format, a GIF is a short video clip, usually only a second or two long. They date back to the 1980s, but because they were complicated to make and used mainly in computer programming, they had never been familiar to the general user.
In recent years, however, the format has become popular on the internet because of its low file size, which makes GIFS easy to store and post on websites or social medial pages.
Specifically on Facebook, Twitter and on blogs, the GIF — usually pronounced with a soft ‘g” — has emerged as a means of commenting without words. The short video, featuring a character conveying a motion or gesture, is used to express the poster’s feelings on a topic. GIFs are often posted in response to comments or as commentary on a particular subject in a blog post, Facebook status or Tweet.
The Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria has 37 of the most popular reaction GIFs on view on the museum’s trademark white wall display in the lobby.
Organized by Associate Curator of Digital Media Jason Eppink, the exhibit, which was put together through crowdsourcing on the social media website Reddit, shows how the GIF emerged as a new form of communication. Each GIF includes an explanation of what it’s meant to represent written by the Reddit poster who suggested it for viewing.
“Some reaction GIFs have entered a common lexicon after being regularly reposted in online communities,” said Eppink. “In ‘The Reaction GIF: Moving Image as Gesture,’ the animated GIF is understood not as an artistic medium but as an element of nonverbal communication: as performed language.”
The most widely used GIFs are often culled from popular movies and television shows.
Many of the GIFs in the exhibit, which opened March 12, feature celebrities, such as Michael Jackson, Jennifer Lawrence, 50 Cent and Tina Fey. Others are taken from funny home videos that went viral.
Among those on display is one featuring Homer Simpson walking backwards into a bush and disappearing moments after walking through it. The GIF is taken from a 1994 episode of “The Simpsons.”
Reddit user Metro2 describes that GIF is being used when “the poster wants to distance themselves from what’s going on, either because a fight has broken out or because things got weird and uncomfortable.”
Others include a laughing baby who is suddenly startled, which Reddit user AngryGlen describes as used “when something particularly startling or unexpected happens out of nowhere.” Kermit the Frog jumping around crazily is used in “ecstatic celebration,” according to Reddit user notshawnvaughn, and a clip of a cat not reacting after a toy train engine bumps into it is meant to express being unmoved by something annoying, often mocking another person online that doesn’t bother the poster too much.
Some of the GIFs are often used for multiple expressions.
One of the most popular ones features a squirrel spinning around facing the camera as it zooms in on him, used “to convey surprise, but also denotes sinister intent,” according to Reddit user Zombieweeds
That GIF is also used when someone is caught in the act of doing or saying something wrong.
There are nearly three dozen other snippets to view. If you’re a social media buff and a regular user of GIFs, you may be familiar with some or all of them. Stop in and see if your favorite made the wall.