Speculation about the 2016 presidential election is well underway. With campaigns starting earlier than ever, it will soon be all politics all the time.
You can turn off the TV and radio to drown out the noise, but the Internet is a minefield. Already you can barely check your favorite news site without seeing the dynastic visage of Jeb Bush or Hilary Clinton, or whomever the rumored candidate du jour, Elizabeth Warren being the latest.
Sick of it already? Australians have an idea for you.
By the thousands Aussies are downloading a Web browser extension that replaces photos of their prime minister with pictures of cats.
Abbot has only been prime minister since September, but his face has been in the news nearly every day since 2009 during which time Abbott served as the opposition leader, sparring with Labor Party leaders for dominance.
It works by using a script that looks for the name “Abbott” then inserts a kitten photo from the Web site placekitten.com. (You may remember a similar tool created for Facebook that replaces photos of babies in your news feed with kitten pictures.)
More than 90,000 people have downloaded the Stop Tony Meow extension since it was launched in January, said Dan Nolan, who created the tool with fellow Sydney-based software engineer Ben Taylor and Web designer Matt Kelsh of Melbourne.
“Are you someone who likes to keep up to date with the latest news, but can’t stand the sight of Tony Abbott’s weird looking face? This is the browser extension for you,” the Stop Tony Meow Web site says.
— Fiona (@fionamcrobie) February 6, 2014
— Dick Cheuk (@KPCheuk) April 22, 2014
“Because Australia’s so small, politics tends to dominate the media here; it’s all we bloody talk about day in and day out,” Nolan told the Post via gchat.
Nolan and crew have nothing against Abbott personally, in fact Nolan voted for the guy. And so did a lot of other people, though Nolan speculates that many votes were motivated more by a dislike of the opposing party than an affinity for Abbott.
“We had the usual political flacks and apparatchiks go on about how it’s disrespectful and blah blah but honestly it’s just replacing a picture of a bloke with a kitten, it’s not offensive, it’s not rude, it’s not stereotyping or demeaning the guy,” Nolan told The Post.
While Abbott’s people haven’t reached out to Nolan personally, they are clearly wise to his shenanigans. By early February, Abbott’s Liberal Party had removed alt tags from the images on its website in a bid to thwart the browser extension from working.
To find out what exactly the Prime Minister’s Office made of his mischief, Nolan filed a Freedom of Information request on February 10 for any correspondence referencing “Stop Tony Meow.”
The request turned up 132 pages which Nolan says he’s prepared to pay $720.30 for. Several news organizations offered to pay the fee for exclusive rights to the story, but Nolan turned them down. “I think that goes against the spirit of what we’re trying to do here,” he told The Post. “We released the extension for free as a bit of fun and I think finding out what the government said about it internally should be available evenly to everyone.”
Nolan said a friend of his has offered to pay the full amount. He expects it will take a few weeks to get the records.
The real concern should be how rumbled political institutions are by “culture jamming” in many forms
— Dan Nolan (@dannolan) April 22, 2014
This isn’t the first time Nolan has taken aim at his country’s political leaders. He also created the Paul Keating Insult Generator, an app which produces one-liners in the style of the acerbic, theatrical former prime minister.
So what is the point of Nolan’s latest prank? “The demolition of the entire political artifice and replacing it with a kinder, gentler, cuddlier polity,” Nolan told the Guardian, playing coy. “There can never be enough cats on the Internet.”