The reaction GIF phenomenon has become a part of daily internet conversation. More than mere memes, many are a part of common everyday discussions. They are so pervasive on Reddit, that the Museum of the Moving Image in NYC has selected the online community at Reddit to curate an exhibit of the most iconic reaction GIFs. They're looking to get the best of the best, but more than that they're looking for those GIFs that are now a part of the culture. Funny is only one aspect of the art of GIFs. That perfect reaction says all it needs to in a few frames, and many reaction GIFs have become so known that just saying: MichaelJacksonEatsPopcorn elicits the desired effect.

Jason Eppink, the Museum of the Moving Image’s associate curator of digital media, went on Reddit to get the ball rolling on the exhibit. He’s not interested in the most clever GIFs, but instead those that are human and real. Rather than collecting lowest common denominator “guy gets hit in the nuts by kid with a bat” America’s Funniest Home Video style items, Eppink wants reaction GIFs that say something and can be used as part of a conversation.
The Reaction GIF: Moving Image as Gesture highlights the most frequently deployed reaction GIFs, along with their commonly understood translations, as they have emerged in comments made on popular social news website Reddit. Here the animated GIF is understood not as an artistic medium, but as an element of nonverbal communication: as language.

The exhibit will display somewhere between 30 and 50 reaction GIFs, with verbage below each to explain what it means and how it’s used with context. Sure, watching Liz Lemon high five herself is funny, but to the layperson walking the museum it just seems silly. The exhibit is for all people, not just those who “get it.” An explanation that Liz Lemon’s self-five is an expression that your joke or comment fell flat, and only you as the originator of the post “got it” is required to understand the intent of the GIF. The same can be said of the above mentioned Michael Jackson GIF. It’s not just a funny moment from the “Thriller” video, but an expression of excitement and anticipation.

The Reaction GIF: Moving Image as Gesture exhibit will run at the museum in NYC from March 12 until May 15, 2014.

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