Image: Disapproving Rabbits
Sharon Stiteler
When Bill and Sharon Stiteler added rabbit pictures to their bird-watching site, they never could have guessed that they'd get a book deal out of it.
Helen Popkin
updated 10/25/2007 9:39:30 PM ET 2007-10-26T01:39:30

It started as an inside joke between Sharon Stiteler and her husband Bill.

Over the years, the couple shared their home with a series of domesticated rabbits. As humans do, Sharon and Bill imbued their bunnies with human characteristics, and since all relaxed rabbits share a frequent facial expression of disapproval, the couple scripted words for what they imagined their bunnies found distasteful.

“Nope. No sir, I don’t approve,” rose as the most popular, eventually memorialized on a t-shirt.

Their photo collection of disapproving rabbits and accompanied captions grew, and Sharon insisted her husband add them to her new bird-watching Web site. Bill called her nuts. He figured no one else would find humor in seemingly reproachful rabbits.

“I told him if just one person got it, it was worth putting on the site,” Sharon said in a recent phone interview from her Minneapolis home.

Unbeknownst to Sharon, Bill and their latest model Cinnamon, Disapproving Rabbits tapped into the unspoken Internet zeitgeist — bunnies! From dancing hamsters to Lolcats, the Internet is virtual zoo of anthropomorphized animals. Right now, thousands of humans watch bunnies reenact the newly posted  “Kill Bill” at 30-Second Bunnies Theatre or listen to Buns and Chou Chou talk bionics on latest episode on Rabbit Bites (in Carrotvision!). 

But while prancing pocket pets and Photoshopped felines get all the press, Wikipedia and the rest of the InterWeb know-it-alls fail to recognize bunnies as a monolithic meme — possibly more powerful than Google or iPhone in their influence, and definitely cuter. Just check out this YouTube video of a bunny fighting a snake. (It’s okay, the bunny wins!)

Nobody’s talking about it, but the fact of the matter is, people love bunnies. They especially love bunnies on the Internet. Many may point too Oolong the Pancake Rabbit as the original Web Bun. This since-departed Japanese phenom grew more famous than Mahir for his ability to balance objects on his adorable head. Close examination of the hamster dance, however, reveals several particularly-long eared rodents (top row, right) hopping in on the action.

A few thousand forwarded e-mail links later, the Stitelers learned the power of the cyber bunny. Cinnamon emerged as an Internet superstar, outshining everything else on the site meant to highlight Sharon’s bird watching and advocacy. Fans sent photos of their own frowning fuzzballs and content-collecting site Cute Overload! picked up their link.

Then, in an html tags-to-riches fantasy for many bloggers, Sharon got the call from Harper Collins. As of last week, you can find the next chapter of this storyline in your local bookstore, where Disapproving Rabbits, the book, is selling quite well.

Now, the Stitelers never set out to make money from their bunnies, not that they’re complaining. Other sites such as 30 Second Bunnies Theater and Rabbit Bites fed the unspoken attraction to all things rabbits specifically an outlet for creativity and income. But like the Stitelers, they picked up on the power of bunnies after the fact.

Graphic artist Jennifer Shiman started Angry Alien Productions to help promote her digital design and illustration skills. Bunnies, she found, were the perfect animals to act out an idea for classic movie reenactments in 30 second flat, starting first with “The Exorcist” in 2005.

“I chose “The Exorcist” because I had recently watched it again, and re-lived how awesome and scary it was, and how great it would be if bunnies gave a capsule synopsis,” she said in an e-mail interview.

From the time she first animated bunnies chanting “The power of Christ compels you,” she’s released one reenactment a month, with the upcoming “Snakes and Bunnies on a Plane” as her 41st. But it only took six (3 minutes total) until she caught the attention of Starz Entertainment Group.

Jennifer says the network sent her an e-mail, commissioning the Bunnies Acting Troupe for its Halloween TV marathon. An immediate hit with viewers, the irresistible thespians led to a full-time job for Jennifer and a foreseeable future with bunnies. 

“I enjoy spending time with the bunnies, and at some point I'll want to focus more on them and their own world.” Jennifer says. “I doubt they will re-enact every movie there is. I need to get with the bunnies and find out their plans and needs.”

Also connecting with what Carl Jung would’ve surely recognized as the Universal Bunny Unconscious, Nicholas Quixote of Rabbit Bites chose to expand his career in Web and TV production with real rabbits “mainly because I had them,” he said in an interview from his home in Oakland, Calif.

Through Quixote Broadcasting, Nicholas says he’s tackling the undeveloped possibilities the visual media infrastructure (TV and Web) and positioning his company as a key player between the eventual gateway between Hollywood and the Internet. “We are managing this pipeline of home-based contributors, branding them, and presenting them in recurring episodes,” Nicholas says of his company. And he’s doing it with bunnies.

Pop culture commentary from his house rabbits Buns and Chou Chou quickly moved from it’s humble YouTube beginnings to a regular feature on Salon’s Video Dog section, as well as Yahoo! and Giggle Sugar. The show’s since evolved into interviews with musicians and comedians, and Nicholas is developing a half-hour TV/Web show titled Rabbit Bites Presents” with Buns and Chou Chou hosting. It’s bunnies. How can it fail?

In conclusion: Following bunnies on the Internet does come with a warning. Don’t let their virtual cuteness convince you to adopt a bunny IRL – unless you’re willing to accept the responsibility of caring for a bunny for its full life – around 10 years. Many of the bunnies appearing in the aforementioned Web sites were abandoned. What’s more, animal shelters are full of post-Easter presents that needed more care than their purchases realized. Just ask the House Rabbit Society.

For more evidence of bunny Internet domination:

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