Must. Watch. Cat. Videos. But why?

Los Angeles Times - - THE PETS ISSUE - By Adam Tschorn adam.tschorn@latimes.com

No mem­ber of the an­i­mal king­dom has con­quered the In­ter­net like Felis catus, the hum­ble house cat.

YouTube is home to an es­ti­mated 10 mil­lion cat videos, which, to put it in per­spec­tive, works out to an upload rate of roughly two cat-re­lated pieces of con­tent ev­ery minute over the last decade. There’s a blueshirted key­board-play­ing cat (“Char­lie Sch­midt’s Key­board Cat! – The Orig­i­nal!” has more than 40 mil­lion views since 2007), a kit­ten rais­ing its paws in sur­prise (“Sur­prised Kitty,” 75.6 mil­lion views) and a very an­gry shel­ter cat from across the pond that’s man­aged to rack up more than 88 mil­lion hits since 2006 (“Very An­gry Cat”).

The phe­nom­e­non has made house­hold names of Grumpy Cat (real name Tar­dar Sauce), whose endorsement deals, media ap­pear­ances, 2014 movie and up­com­ing comic book have gen­er­ated a re­ported six fig­ures, and Lil Bub, a talk-show-host­ing spe­cial-needs res­cue cat that’s helped raise more than $200,000 for the ASPCA since 2012.

How did the cats-on-the-In­ter­net meme be­come so en­trenched in pop cul­ture that the phe­nom­e­non was re­cently foot­noted in con­gres­sional tes­ti­mony on the use of In­ter­net band­width and ref­er­enced in the CIA’s of­fi­cial Twit­ter feed?

To help an­swer that ques­tion, we turned to some­one who may have watched more of those 10 mil­lion YouTube videos than any­one else on the planet: Scott Stulen, the cu­ra­tor of au­di­ence ex­pe­ri­ences at the In­di­anapo­lis Mu­seum of Art and or­ga­nizer of the first In­ter­net Cat Video Fes­ti­val at the Walker Art Cen­ter in Min­neapo­lis in 2012: What is it about cats that make them such pop­u­lar video sub­jects?

They have their own per­son­al­i­ties, they act like they don’t need us and they op­er­ate very in­de­pen­dently. So there’s a sense that they’re not per­form­ing for us. Within that, we start to pro­ject very hu­man per­sonas, traits and char­ac­ter­is­tics onto them.

There’s also the prac­ti­cal thing of them be­ing in the home all the time and ev­ery­body has a video cam­era now, so that helps fuel the re­la­tion­ship. Why don’t dog videos seem to cap­ture our col­lec­tive at­ten­tion in the same way?

While dog own­ers have a lot of so­cial spa­ces that ex­ist — go­ing out to the dog park or go­ing out for a walk — cat own­ers are pri­mar­ily [in­ter­act­ing from] home and don’t have the same op­tions. So in a lot of ways the In­ter­net — and cat videos — be­came the cat park, a place where cat own­ers in­ter­act with one another and share things. What would you con­sider the Golden Age of In­ter­net cat videos? Are we there now?

To me the Golden Age was prob­a­bly like the Golden Age of YouTube, when the mon­e­tary piece wasn’t such a part of it. I’d say 2008 to 2012 was prob­a­bly the sweet spot, book­ended by the “Key­board Cat” video that was posted in 2007, and the Henri [LeChatNoir] videos from 2012 and a lit­tle af­ter. That’s the win­dow: pre-Grumpy Cat, pre-Lil Bub, where things shifted a bit. I’m not say­ing it’s good or it’s bad; it’s just changed.” Can you think of any­thing that could ever dis­lodge the cat video meme’s place in our col­lec­tive con­science?

I would have thought it would have al­ready hap­pened by now be­cause the life span of a typ­i­cal meme is so short and this has lived on now for a solid four or five years at full speed and doesn’t show any signs of weak­en­ing yet. But I think the plat­forms it lives on will change — I’m sure there are al­ready Periscope chan­nels that are stream­ing cats ev­ery­where.

David Liv­ingston Getty Im­ages

GRUMPY CAT, one of many cat-video stars spawned via YouTube, has gen­er­ated a re­ported six fig­ures through endorsement deals, ap­pear­ances, a 2014 movie and up­com­ing comic book.

Mark Ral­ston AFP/Getty Im­ages

LIL BUB, a so­cial media and video star, at CatConLA, a re­cent two-day con­ven­tion for peo­ple who love cats.

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