Hardly a week goes by without computer games being blamed for turning people into psychopathic killers, so it was strangely reassuring to see some of these dangerous maniacs up in arms over the spoof Bonsai Kitten web site.
After being included as a novelty 'link of the day' on Blue's News, a popular indie site almost as old as the online gaming scene itself, BonsaiKitten.com was soon provoking an inevitable barrage of complaints.
"Someone hit an all time low with the kitten page," one reader vented. "That's f#cking disgusting. Sick f#cks like that give the human race a bad name."
Said another: "The bonsai kitten link is in really poor taste. I have even more shame at being a member of this species now for having seen it."
Blue's News soon removed the link. The site administrator explained: "Although personally I didn't find it offensive (and yes, I do have a cat) obviously there are some of you that do, and I'd rather not offend our readers."
So what is BonsaiKitten.com?
Well, it's a joke. A very convincing joke. Perhaps even a little too convincing.
At first glance it would fool anyone, and even when you're really, really sure it's all just an elaborate wind-up, you still have your doubts.
The intro to the site explains:
"Though once the sole province of Bonsai masters within Japan, Bonsai plants have been available to fortunate consumers throughout the world for some time. With this in mind, we are proud to now offer to you the animal complement of this art form; the Bonsai Kitten."
Worried yet? It goes on:
"At only a few weeks of age, a kitten's bones have not yet hardened and become osseous. The flexibility of the kitten's skeleton means that if the bones are gently warped at this early age, they can be molded into any desired shape. At Bonsai Kitten, we achieve this by placing the kitten into a rigid vessel soon after birth, and allowing the young cat to grow out its formative time entirely within this container. The kitten essentially grows into the shape of the vessel!"
The site fools so many people because it goes into such great detail, even offering advice for 'amateurs' wanting to experiment with their own kittens.
Understandably, this gives rise to concerns that the site's less intelligent visitors -- the very people most likely to fall for it -- may set about sticking kittens in glass jars and leaving them there for a few weeks.
There's even an illustrated example of one kitten supposedly being prepared, complete with alarming comments such as: "Kitten was injected with 2mg equivalent dosage of Valium via Ketamine after 12 hr fasting regimen."
And explaining how the jars are sealed: "Rear aspect, revealing initialswelling reaction from Super Glue. Rectal diverticulum to side tube usually spontaneously occurs in one week."
The owner of the site also runs a letters page, quoting praise and supportfrom (hopefully) in-on-it readers and defending himself against those who find the site distasteful. And the pretence doesn't stop here either.
"You are a sick son of a bitch," one letter says. "You are probably Chinese, the most perverse of the Asians."
The response: "This message is typical of the bigoted and intolerant individuals that have attempted to detract from our company ever since we started it. It is a shame to spoil our guestbook with this sort of ignorant filth."
Apparently started last month by a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Bonsai Kitten has been moving around from server to server, as it unsurprisingly attracts a lot of complaints and some web companies are unwilling to host it. There are currently eleven hosts listed that are said to have deleted the site or refused to carry mirrors of it.
The new host, Rotten.com, which routinely carries material such as photos of autopsies and car accidents, has given Bonsai Kitten a permanent home, quoting a message from the US Humane Society to ease worried minds:
"When this site initially appeared in December, a local humane organization did get involved on a local level in checking out this person, but discovered no evidence of actual animal abuse having occurred."
However, the Humane Society isn't quite as positive about the site as may appear from this quote. The society's full announcement says that Bonsai Kitten "depicts and encourages cat cruelty", then explains the attempts made to have it taken down, concluding:
"The Humane Society consistently works to increase public awareness of many animal exploitative issues, including those encouraged by many of these sites."
Whoever runs Bonsai Kitten is certainly treading a fine line between devilishly clever satire and simple bad taste. But whatever the original intention was, the joke is no longer the site itself, but the outrage it provokes from some visitors.
Other sites guaranteed to offend some animal lovers include Cat-Scan.com - featuring pictures of blindfolded cats taken using a flatbed scanner - and several interactive animation sites that allow a variety of cartoon critters to be dispatched using microwave ovens and blenders.
And if you really want to delve into the Net's seedier side, there are sites dedicated to one of the more bizarre sexual fetishes, known as 'crush' or 'stomp'. These sites carry pictures and videos of women, usually bare foot or wearing stilettos or combat boots, doing some decidedly unpleasant things to insects and rodents.
Yahoo carries links to several 'crush' fetish sites, and even gives them a category of their own. But according to BonsaiKitten.com, a Yahoo discussion group about that site was removed after just a few days. ®