Rodents and Champions: Talking to the Man Behind "Capybaras That Look Like Rafael Nadal"

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Imagine an endlessly looping .gif of Michael Ironside's head-splosion from Scanners, and you have some sense of how frequently the entire internet's mind is blown by some dumb-brilliant single-serving web-thing or YouTube gambit or meme-let or other. One day it is terrible photos of a bored Dan Uggla taken from a great distance, and another it is brutally/sniffily mispronounced professional athlete names, and the day after that it is a bunch of people joking about how funny it might be if Mark Reynolds used Philip Glass as his at-bat music, and two or so days afterwards a discussion of either might as well be an archaeology lecture. This is a good thing, but it is a thing—a churning goof-cycle that pushes and pulls with great vigor. But, if you've seen it in the first place, you have almost certainly not yet forgotten about Capybaras That Look Like Rafael Nadal, a Tumblr project by a London-based web developer named Laurie Ainley that changed the entire internet's perspective last week.

That was last week, of course. But even if Ainley never takes time out of his day to cut and paste another photo of an oversized rodent/Iberian tennis star and sex symbol into Photoshop, he'll have done a great deal. He will have made us see Rafael Nadal in a new way, or... actually, not really, if also kind of, sort of. But he'll at the very least have added some furtive office chuckles to the world, and that is a very valuable kind of chuckle, and not an unvaluable kind of contribution. Ainley was nice enough to answer some questions on this most urgent of single-serving Tumblr art projects via email. "These are the footnotes in a tale of love and hope," he says. They are also, as Ainley's ambitious merchandising aims suggest, just the beginning. Ainley and his meme may not be done with us just yet.

Can you pinpoint one moment, maybe while watching a nature documentary or the French Open or something, when you realized that Rafael Nadal looked like a capybara to you, or vice versa?

I’m not sure I can pinpoint a single moment; it may have been during one of the many classic Federer-Nadal Wimbledon finals, maybe it was while witnessing his complete mastery and domination of the clay court, or perhaps it was that sunny Saturday afternoon I spent down Bristol Zoo watching various mammals munch on bananas and rearrange their genitals. It was probably a combination of all of that really, but the overriding factor here is that the comparison was too obvious not to make.

Comparing one of the sport's great sex symbols to an oversized rodent that looks like a furry, pissed-off John Malkovich is kind of a bold stance. Have you gotten much pushback on this? And why a capybara?

What you neglect to mention is that the capybara is one of the great sex symbols of the rodent kingdom. While your preference may be for more svelte animals like the over-promoted meerkat, I think you might be the exception rather than the rule. There’s enough pressure on young teenage rodents already, and I don’t think it’s healthy to focus on their size. If anything, I hope that my site can assist in showing young capybaras that they don’t need to be ultra-slim to get noticed, they just need to be themselves. We are the 99%.

And the reaction has generally been very positive. I think one person might have called me fat. Someone said they laughed so much they lost their shit—I’m not sure how important their shit was to them, but I can only apologise for that. And why a capybara? I think the comparison is too obvious to pass up really. I’m just surprised the Economist or HuffPo didn’t get there first.

Have you thought about expanding this throughout the rest of the sport? What is the endgame for this sort of thing? A coffee table book? I assure you that I am not asking this only because I think Andy Murray looks like one of those hairless moles that lives underground.

I think, as mentioned above, the next step will be some sort of teenage capybara support charity, maybe called the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Capybaras or something, I doubt NSPCC will be taken. We’ll support this through various products that people would only ever buy for other people—T-shirts, mugs, toilet brushes. I would hope Rafa will do the right thing and become a patron.

I’ve not really decided on whether to pursue further comparisons in Tennis, or indeed across other sports, but I think they would have to be pretty close for me to follow up. I don’t think lazy comparisons of Ilie Nastase to a Proboscis Monkey, Boris Becker to Beaker from the Muppets or even Andy Murray to a Madagascan Aye-aye will be sufficient. No, I think this cause deserves far greater dedication and attention, so I will refrain from any follow ups until I’m certain there’s at least a 99% genetic match between the two organisms involved.

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Is this a blog series? If not, it should be. I would love to read the next installment on this subject.

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