You may have heard of Jorts the cat and his friend Jean. In December 2021, the two felines and their anonymous owner went viral on Reddit—before gripping every other social media platform. On the popular subreddit AmItheAsshole (shortened ‘AITA’), user throwawayorangecat asked: “AITA for ‘perpetuating ethnic stereotypes’ about Jorts?”
For context, Jean and Jorts reside at an unspecified American workplace. “One of them (Jean) is a tortoiseshell cat we have had for years. The other one (Jorts) is a large orange cat and a recent addition. Jorts is just… kind of a simple guy,” explained their owner/supervisor. Jorts struggles with, among other things, opening doors, getting stuck in cupboards, and tipping over trash cans.
Now, Pam (an alias) started spending a lot of time “trying to teach Jorts things.” A gentle joke along the lines of “you can’t expect Jean’s tortoiseshell smarts from orange cat Jorts” made Pam “FURIOUS. She started crying and left the hallway, then sent an email to the group (including volunteers) and went home early.” She argued that the joke was “perpetuating ethnic stereotypes by saying orange cats are dumb” and demanded ”racial sensitivity training.”
A follow-up post gave further details, including that: “Pam admits that she has been putting margarine on Jorts in an attempt to teach him to groom himself better. This may explain the diarrhoea problem Jean developed (which required a vet visit).” They resolved, amicably, that “Pam is NOT to apply margarine to any of her coworkers.” “I can’t believe she fuckin buttered Jorts,” commented one user—which quickly became a meme in and of itself. It’s worth perusing the whole saga in full, so I won’t repeat all the details here.
Now, this story is both adorable and hilarious. It has all the ingredients for a perfect and innocent viral story: there are no losers and Pam was thrilled with their internet fame. In a final update on Reddit, the original user wrote: “Pam is glad ‘our little cats’ have so many new friends. Legal counsel told me to knock it off with all of this bullshit. Someone gave Jorts a pipe cleaner.”
But, in the weeks since their original viral fame, Jorts (and Jean) have done something remarkable. Their owner—who, extraordinarily, remains anonymous—started a Twitter account to capitalise on their popularity and share both fanart and further updates on Jorts. The account, Jorts (and Jean), now has over 126,000 followers with tweets going viral every other day. Like many social media pages dedicated to animals, there are loads of posts featuring cute pictures and funny jokes—posted as if Jorts himself is tweeting.
Instead of creating merchandise to make a quick buck at Christmas, as requested by many followers, Jorts encouraged supporting local animal shelters by adopting a cat and shared links to specific felines available around the US.
Both Jorts and Jean are notably pro-union, which comes at a time of several major and significant labour disputes across America, including at Starbucks. They have tweeted picket line etiquette and shared community strike funds. Donations to various funds count as “official Jorts merch”—adding that “my supervisor donated for me because I am a cat so I don’t have a wallet.”
They frequently add alt text to every image they post and upload—all the while explaining why the feature is important and how to add it to your own tweets. “I am not an expert, I am just a cat who made an account a month ago and I’m still learning too,” they tweeted, in a humble and encouraging manner. “The more of us who can join the same conversation, the better the conversation is. I love all of you very much.”
Another thread explained the importance of investing in education and healthcare in order to foster innovation in the simplest way possible—thereby dispelling the myth of the isolated genius inventor. “We were looking out the window and I said to Jean ‘Wow, imagine inventing a car.’ Jean said nobody invented the car from nothing… Nothing happens from one person. Someone invented the engine, and the steering wheel. Someone invented a brake. Someone else invented a windshield and a windshield wiper… Nobody does anything great alone.”
Jorts (and Jean) have also been dunking on NFT TechBros and called Neil Gorsuch an asshole for refusing to wear a mask in the Supreme Court to protect high-risk Justice Sonia Sotomayor. In the past week, they have additionally raised awareness about a community organising effort—initially tweeted about by Booker Prize-shortlisted author Brandon Taylor—and have shared trans-inclusive content, tweeting: “Our precious trans people are at the apex of vulnerable and under-protected and it’s silly to pretend otherwise.”
It’s worth scrolling not just through Jorts’ timeline but also through the replies—they interact with their followers consistently and compassionately, sharing buckets of love and building a community of anti-cop cat lovers.
If you were to breeze through Jorts and Jean’s story, it may seem like a silly tale about two cats and some margarine—which spiralled out of control in the most wholesome way possible. However, it’s the best use of someone capitalising on their 15 minutes of fame to bring about real and selfless change with strong community action.
In 2019, the internet saw a wave of websites that each specialised in AI-generated content. From ThisPersonDoesNotExist.com, which generates infinite images of people who don’t exist, to ThisStartupDoesNotExist.com, which, you guessed it, generates pages of startups that don’t exist either, you could find any AI-generated imageries you wanted.
As more websites jumped on the bandwagon, some more trivial copycats started appearing, such as ThisWaifuDoesNotExist.net and ThisCatDoesNotExist.com. But while other websites’ algorithms seemed to really hit the nail on the head when picturing things that didn’t exist, ThisCatDoesNotExist.com became popular for the exact opposite reason; its ‘imaginary’ cats were creepy-looking creatures that people understandably turned into memes in no time.
Generative adversarial networks (GAN) work by running two classes of neural networks into one final output—meaning that they take real data and feed an algorithm that then distorts it in a formulaic way in order to create more variations that are anchored in real traits, but are completely fake.
It is this machine-learning algorithm that sketches human faces, hentai, cats, or almost anything else by examining hundreds of thousands of already existing images.
The website’s generated cat images looked more like the result of what would happen when hundreds of thousands of cat images, including text memes and their human owners’ faces, were mashed together by a cyber crash. The results were absolutely terrifying.
Compared to ThisPersonDoesNotExist.com’s uncanny faces, which are almost completely indistinguishable from the real thing, these cats still have a long way to go. At least, that was back in 2019.
If you try going back on the website again, you’ll see that the AI-generated cat images are now just as credible as the people from ThisPersonDoesNotExist.com. Why is that? Well, just as we previously explained that these websites’ algorithms need to be fed real data in order to create fake images, ThisCatDoesNotExist.com would have had to have received enough cat pictures for it to reach real enough fake images. On top of that, it probably had to sort out through different images in order to get rid of memes including cats or other images of humans with cats.
While this tech advancement must have been the website’s pride and joy for a couple of weeks, it must have been a big disappointment soon after, as all bored people on the internet happily took advantage of this open-source technology for a bit of fun.