Cats and the Internet

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Grumpy Cat, a pet made famous through an image macro, on stage at VidCon 2014

Images and videos of domestic cats make up some of the most viewed content on the web, particularly image macros in the form of lolcats. ThoughtCatalog has described cats as the "unofficial mascot of the Internet".[1] Cats as human companions "are now sharing not only people's real life but also their virtual world" as a scientific study points out.[2]

The subject has attracted the attention of various scholars and critics, who have analysed why this form of low art has reached iconic status. Though it may be considered frivolous, cat-related internet content contributes to how people interact with media and culture.[3] Some argue that there is a depth and complexity to this seemingly simple content, with a suggestion that the positive psychological effects that pets have on their owners also holds true for cat images viewed online.[4]

Some individual cats, such as Grumpy Cat and Lil Bub, have achieved popularity online because of their unusual appearances.

History[edit]

Humans have always had a close relationship with cats, and the animals have long been a subject of short films, including the early silent movies Boxing Cats (1894) and The Sick Kitten (1903).[5] Harry Pointer (1822–1889) has been cited as the "progenitor of the shameless cat picture".[6] Cats have been shared via email since the internet's rise to prominence in the 1990s.[7] The first cat video on YouTube was uploaded in 2005 by YouTube co-founder Steve Chen, who posted a video of his cat called "Pyjamas playing with a rope".[7] The following year, "Puppy vs Cat" became the first viral cat video; uploaded by a user called Sanchey (a.k.a. Michael Wienzek);[8] as of 2015 it had over 16 million views on YouTube.[7] In a Mashable article that explored the history of cat media on the Internet, the oldest entry was an ASCII art cat that originated on 2channel, and was a pictorial representation of the phrase "Please go away."[9]

The New York Times described cat images as "that essential building block of the Internet".[10] In addition, 2,594,329 cat images had been manually annotated in flickr.com by users.[11] An interesting phenomenon is that many photograph owners tag their house cats as "tiger".[12]

Eric Nakagawa and Kari Unebasami started the website I Can Haz Cheezburger in 2007, where they shared funny pictures of cats. This site allowed users to create LOLcat memes by placing writing on top of pictures of their cats. This site now has more than 100 million views per month and has "created a whole new form of internet speak".[7] In 2009, the humour site Urlesque deemed September 9 "A Day Without Cats Online", and had over 40 blogs and websites agree to "[ban] cats from their pages for at least 24 hours".[13] As of 2015, there are over 2 million cat videos on YouTube alone, and cats are one of the most searched keywords on the internet.[7] CNN estimated that in 2015 there could be around 6.5 billion cat pictures on the internet.[14] The internet has been described as a "virtual cat park, a social space for cat lovers in the same way that dog lovers congregate at a dog park".[15] The Daily Telegraph deemed Nyan Cat the most popular internet cat,[16] while NPR gave this title to Grumpy Cat.[17] The Daily Telegraph also deemed the best cat video on YouTube as "Surprised Kitty (Original)", which currently has over 75 million views.[18] Buzzfeed deemed Cattycake the most important cat of 2010.[19]

In 2015, an exhibition called "How Cats Took Over The Internet" opened at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York.[20] The exhibition "looks at the history of how they rose to internet fame, and why people like them so much".[7] There is even a book entitled How to Make Your Cat an Internet Celebrity: A Guide to Financial Freedom.[21] The annual Internet Cat Video Festival celebrated and awards the Golden Kitty to cat videos.[22] According to Star Tribune, the festival's success is because "people realized that the cat video they'd chuckled over in the privacy of their homes was suddenly a thousand times funnier when there are thousands of other people around".[23] The Daily Telegraph had an entire article devoted to International Cat Day.[24] EMGN wrote an article entitled "21 Reasons Why Cats And The Internet Are A Match Made in Heaven".[25]

In 2015, there were more than 2 million cat videos on YouTube, with an average of 12,000 views each – a higher average than any other category of YouTube content.[26] Cats made up 16% of views in YouTube's "Pets & Animals" category, compared to dogs' 23%.[27] The YouTube video Cats vs. Zombies merged the two internet phenomena of cats and zombies.[28] Data from BuzzFeed and Tumblr has shown that dog videos have more views than those of cats, and less than 1% of posts on Reddit mention cats.[29] While dogs are searched for much more than cats, there is less content on the internet.[30] The Facebook page "Cats" has over 2 million likes while Dogs has over 6.5 million.[31] In an Internet tradition, The New York Times Archives Twitter account posts cat reporting throughout the history of the NYT.[32][33] The Japanese prefecture of Hiroshima launched an online Cat Street View, which showed the region from the perspective of a cat.[34]

Abigail Tucker, author of The Lion in the Living Room, a history of domestic cats, has suggested that cats appeal particularly because they "remind us of own faces, and especially of our babies...[they're] strikingly human but also perpetually deadpan".[35][36]

Psychology[edit]

Jason Eppink, curator of the Museum of the Moving Image's show How Cats Took Over the Internet, has noted the "outsized role" of cats on the Internet.[37] Wired magazine felt that the cuteness of cats was "too simplistic" an explanation of their popularity online.[29]

A scientific survey done found that the participants were more happy after watching cat videos.[7][38] The researcher behind the survey explained "If we want to better understand the effects the Internet may have on us as individuals and on society, then researchers can't ignore Internet cats anymore"[39] and "consumption of online cat-related media deserves empirical attention".[40] The Huffington Post suggested that the videos were a form of procrastination, with most being watched while at work or ostensibly studying,[41] while IU Bloomington commented "[it] does more than simply entertain; it boosts viewers' energy and positive emotions and decreases negative feelings".[42] BusinessInsider argues "This falls in line with a body of research regarding the effects that animals have on people."[43] A 2015 study by Jessica Gall Myrick found that people were more than twice as likely to post a picture or video of a cat to the internet than they were to post a selfie.[26] Also, it was found that people who watch cat videos feel more energetic and positive after viewing online cat content.[44]

Maria Bustillos considers cat videos to be "the crystallisation of all that human beings love about cats", with their "natural beauty and majesty" being "just one tiny slip away from total humiliation", which Bustillos sees as a mirror of the human condition.[45] When the creator of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, was asked for an example of a popular use of the internet that he would never had predicted, he answered "Kittens".[46][47] A 2014 paper argues that cats' "unselfconsciousness" is rare in an age of hyper-surveillance, and cat photos appeal to people as it lets them imagine "the possibility of freedom from surveillance", while presenting the power of controlling that surveillance as unproblematic.[48] Time magazine felt that cat images tap into viewers nature as "secret voyeurs".[27]

The Cheezburger Network considers cats to be the "perfect canvas" for human emotion, as they have expressive facial and body aspects.[49] Mashable offered "cats' cuteness, non-cuteness, popularity among geeks, blank canvas qualities, personality issues, and the fact that dogs just don't have "it"" as possible explanations to cats' popularity on the internet.[50] A paper entitled ""I Can Haz Emoshuns?" – Understanding Anthropomorphosis of Cats among Internet Users" found that Tagpuss, an app that showed users cat images and asked them to choose their emotion "can be used to identify cat behaviours that lay-people find difficult to distinguish".[relevant? ][51]

Jason Eppink, curator of the "How Cats Took Over the Internet" exhibition, explained: “People on the web are more likely to post a cat than another animal, because it sort of perpetuates itself. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. [sic]”[33][52] Jason Kottke considers cats to be "easier to objectify" and therefore "easier to make fun of".[53] Journalist Jack Shepherd suggested that cats were more popular than dogs because dogs were "trying too hard", and humorous behavior in a dog would be seen as a bid for validation. Shepherd sees cats' behavior as being "cool, and effortless, and devoid of any concern about what you might think about it. It is art for art's sake".[54]

Cats have historically been associated with magic, and have been revered by various human cultures, the ancient Egyptians worshipping them as gods and the creatures being feared as demons in ancient Japan,[14] such as the bakeneko. Vogue magazine has suggested that the popularity of cats on the internet is culturally-specific, being popular in North America, Western Europe, and Japan. Other nations favor different animals online, Ugandans sharing images of goats and chickens, Mexicans preferring llamas, and Chinese internet users sharing images of the river crab and grass-mud horse due to double-meanings of their names allowing them to "subvert government Internet censors".[55] While cats on the internet might be culturally-specific, cat content is increasing in its popularity in various cultures as a scientific study showed by looking at German, English, Italian, and Russian media.[56]

Cute cat theory of digital activism[edit]

A picture of a striped cat in an apparent seated position with its legs spread, looking at the camera. In the upper left corner is the text "Why U Wanna Censor Me?" in white capital letters
Lolcat images are often shared through the same networks used by online activists.

The cute cat theory of digital activism is a theory concerning Internet activism, Web censorship, and "cute cats" (a term used for any low-value, but popular online activity) developed by Ethan Zuckerman in 2008.[57][58] It posits that most people are not interested in activism; instead, they want to use the web for mundane activities, including surfing for pornography and lolcats ("cute cats").[59] The tools that they develop for that (such as Facebook, Flickr, Blogger, Twitter, and similar platforms) are very useful to social movement activists, who may lack resources to develop dedicated tools themselves.[59] This, in turn, makes the activists more immune to reprisals by governments than if they were using a dedicated activism platform, because shutting down a popular public platform provokes a larger public outcry than shutting down an obscure one.[59]

Celebrities[edit]

Because of the relative newness of this industry, most owners of famous cats found themselves stumbling into internet stardom without intentionally planning it.[60]

Grumpy Cat[edit]

Tardar Sauce (born April 4, 2012),[61] better known by her Internet name "Grumpy Cat", is a cat and Internet celebrity known for her grumpy facial expression.[62][63][64][65] Her owner, Tabatha Bundesen, says that her permanently grumpy-looking face is due to an underbite and feline dwarfism.[62][66][67] Grumpy Cat's popularity originated from a picture posted to the social news website Reddit by Bundesen's brother Bryan on September 22, 2012.[62][68][69] It was made into an image macro with grumpy captions. As of December 10, 2014, "The Official Grumpy Cat" page on Facebook has over 7 million "likes".[70] Grumpy Cat was featured on the front page of The Wall Street Journal on May 30, 2013, and on the cover of New York magazine on October 7, 2013.[65][71][72] In August 2015 it was announced that Grumpy Cat would get her own animatronic waxwork at Madame Tussauds in San Francisco.[73] The Huffington Post wrote an article exploring America's fascination with cats.[74]

Lil Bub[edit]

Lil Bub (Lillian Bubbles) is an American celebrity cat known for her unique appearance. She was the runt of her litter. Her owner, Mike Bridavsky, adopted her when his friends called to ask him to give her a home. Her photos were first posted to Tumblr in November 2011 then taken off after being featured on the social news website reddit.[75] "Lil Bub" on Facebook has over two million Likes.[76] Lil Bub stars in Lil Bub & Friendz, a documentary premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 18, 2013 that won the Tribeca Online Festival Best Feature Film.[77][78][79]

Maru[edit]

Maru (まる, Japanese: circle or round; born May 24, 2007[80]) is a male Scottish Fold (straight variety[81]) cat in Japan who has become popular on YouTube. As of April 2013, videos with Maru have been viewed over 200 million times.[82] Videos featuring Maru have an average of 800,000 views each and he is mentioned often in print and televised media discussing Internet celebrities.[83] Maru is the "most famous cat on the internet."[84]

Maru's owner posts videos under the account name 'mugumogu'. His owner is almost never seen in the videos, although the video titled "Maru's ear cleaning".  is an exception. The videos include title cards in English and Japanese setting up and describing the events, and often show Maru playing in cardboard boxes, indicated by "I love a box!" in his first video.

Colonel Meow[edit]

Colonel Meow (adopted October 11, 2011[Note 1] – January 29, 2014)[85] was a male HimalayanPersian crossbreed cat, who holds the 2014 Guinness world record for the longest fur on a cat (nine inches or about 23 cm).[86] He became an Internet celebrity when his owners posted pictures of his scowling face to Facebook and Instagram.[87][88] He was known by his hundreds of thousands of followers as an "adorable fearsome dictator", a "prodigious Scotch drinker" and "the angriest cat in the world".[88]

Oskar and Klaus[edit]

Oskar was born on May 5, 2011 and was an outdoor kitty living on a small farm in the Loess Hills of western Iowa before being adopted by Mick and Bethany Szydlowski on July 11 of that year. They later moved to Nebraska, finally settling in Seattle, Washington. Oskar had a condition called microphthalmia, which means his eyes never fully developed because of genetic abnormalities. Even though he could not see, Oskar could function perfectly well using his other senses, and was happy and healthy. Many who met him for the first time never even realize he was completely blind.

Oskar's best friend, "The Klaus", is a former stray that was adopted in 2006 by the same couple. He lives in Seattle with Mick, and Bethany, and formerly with Oskar. In 2014, they published a book about the cats' adventures titled Oskar and Klaus Present: The Search for Bigfoot.[89]

On February 5, 2018, Oskar passed away, likely due to heart failure.[90]

Nala Cat[edit]

Nala was adopted at a shelter when she was 5 or 6 months old. The original owners could not take care of the litter Nala was part of. When Nala was adopted, she was the only one of her family still at the shelter. The person who adopted Nala had not planned on adopting a kitten that day, but she picked up Nala. Like many shelter kittens, Nala had breathing problems and infections that needed to be taken care of. Nala regained her health and grew up to be strong and healthy, but with short legs. Her owner started an Instagram account to share Nala's progress and antics with her friends and family, but ended up amassing over a million followers. Subsequently, Nala has starred in many YouTube videos. The owner has used the attention to bring awareness for the need to spay or neuter pets and adopt from shelters instead of buying them from breeders, and urging people to get pets only if they intend to keep them.[91]

As of February 2018, Nala cat has 3.5 millions followers on Instagram,[92] and sometimes considered as one of "the most-sensational cats on Instagram".

Oh Long Johnson[edit]

This unnamed cat, first seen in a video shown on America's Funniest Home Videos, became famous for its growling resembling human speech. In the video, one cat makes aggressive noises at another, its vocalizations resembling "human-like gibberish"[93] that can be interpreted as "Oh my dog. Oh Long John. Oh Long Johnson. Oh Don Piano. Why I eyes ya. All the live long day." The video first appeared on the Internet in 2006[93] during a compilation video on YouTube featuring cats producing human-like sounds, and other standalone videos were later uploaded. The full clip shows a second, younger-looking cat in the room,[94] and the cat's speech pattern was the result of the cat being aggravated by the second cat's presence and was reacting with fear and annoyance.

The video was referenced in the South Park episode "Faith Hilling", where Johnson's speech pattern ended up causing several deaths related to "Oh Long Johnsoning".

The Oreo Cat[edit]

The Oreo Cat (born August 25, 2013) is a Canadian cat internet celebrity from Woodbridge. Oreo became known online as a result of a short video posted to Tumblr in early 2016. Later that year, one of The Oreo Cat's YouTube videos was published in the film Nine Lives. In April 2016, The Oreo Cat joined musical.ly and quickly climbed up the charts. Within one year, Oreo accumulated over half a million fans on the musical.ly platform starring in comedic videos created and conceptualized by his owner. In early 2017, The Oreo Cat became a registered enterprise[95] in Quebec and is now recognized as a media company whose main activities include Book Publishing, Illustration & Design, Advertisements, Sponsored posts, Pet Product Reviews, Video Licensing, Public Appearances, Image Licensing & Sale.

Garfi[edit]

Garfi (born 15 January, 2005) is a Turkish internet celebrity. He is said to be the world's angriest cat on the internet.

Internet Memes[edit]

Lolcat[edit]

A lolcat (pronounced /ˈlɒlkæt/ LOL-kat) is an image macro of one or more cats. The image's text is often idiosyncratic and grammatically incorrect. Its use in this way is known as "lolspeak" or "kitty pidgin".

"Lolcat" is a compound word of the acronymic abbreviation for "laugh out loud" (LOL) and the word "cat".[96][97] A synonym for "lolcat" is cat macro, since the images are a type of image macro.[98] Lolcats are commonly designed for photo sharing imageboards and other Internet forums.

Nyan Cat[edit]

Nyan Cat is the name of a YouTube video, uploaded in April 2011, which became an Internet meme. The video merged a Japanese pop song with an animated cartoon cat with the body of a Pop-Tart, flying through space, and leaving a rainbow trail behind it. The video ranked at number 5 on the list of most viewed YouTube videos in 2011.[99]

Keyboard cat[edit]

Keyboard Cat is another Internet phenomenon. It consists of a video from 1984 of a cat called "Fatso" wearing a blue shirt and "playing" an upbeat rhythm on an electronic keyboard. The video was posted to YouTube under the title "charlie schmidt's cool cats" in June 2007. Schmidt later changed the title to "Charlie Schmidt's Keyboard Cat (THE ORIGINAL)".[100]

Fatso (who died in 1987)[101] was owned (and manipulated in the video) by Charlie Schmidt of Spokane, Washington, United States and the blue shirt still belonged to Schmidt's cat Fatso. Later, Brad O'Farrell, who was the syndication manager of the video website My Damn Channel, obtained Schmidt's permission to reuse the footage, appending it to the end of a blooper video to "play" that person offstage after the mistake or gaffe in a similar manner as getting the hook in the days of vaudeville.[102] The appending of Schmidt's video to other blooper and other viral videos became popular, with such videos usually accompanied with the title Play Him Off, Keyboard Cat or a variant. "Keyboard Cat" was ranked No. 2 on Current TV's list of 50 Greatest Viral Videos.[103]

Cats that Look Like Hitler[edit]

Cats That Look Like Hitler is a satirical website featuring photographs of cats that bear an alleged resemblance to Adolf Hitler.[104] Most of the cats have a large black splotch underneath their nose, much like the dictator's stumpy toothbrush moustache. The site was founded by Koos Plegt and Paul Neve in 2006,[105] and became widely known after being featured on several television programmes across Europe[105][106][107] and Australia.[108] The site is now only run by Neve. As of February 2013, the site contained photographs of over 8,000 cats, submitted by owners with digital cameras and internet access and then approved by Neve as content.[109]

Everytime you masturbate... God kills a kitten[edit]

"Every time you masturbate… God kills a kitten" is the caption of an image created by a member of the website Fark.com in 2002.[110][111] The image features a kitten (subsequently referred to as "Cliché Kitty") being chased by two Domos, and has the tagline "Please, think of the kittens".

I Can Has Cheezburger[edit]

It was created in 2007 by Eric Nakagawa (Cheezburger), a blogger from Hawaii, and his friend Kari Unebasami (Tofuburger).[citation needed] The website is one of the most popular internet sites of its kind. It received as many as 1,500,000 hits per day at its peak in May 2007.[112][113] ICHC was instrumental in bringing animal-based image macros and lolspeak into mainstream usage and making internet memes profitable.[114]

Brussels Lockdown[edit]

In 2015, the atmosphere among the community of Brussels, Belgium was tense when the city was put under the highest level state of emergency immediately following the Paris attacks, however internet cats were able to cut the tension by taking over the Twitter feed #BrusselsLockdown.[115] The feed was designed to discuss operational details of terrorist raids, but when police asked for a social media blackout the hashtag was overwhelmed by internet users posting pictures of cats to drown out serious discussion and prevent terrorists from gaining any useful information.[116] The use of cat images is a reference to the Level 4 state of emergency: the French word for the number 4, quatre, is pronounced similarly to the word cat in English.[117][118]

Pusheen[edit]

Pusheen is another Internet phenomenon about a cartoon cat. Created in 2010, the popularity of using emoji and Facebook stickers led to a rise in Pusheen's popularity. She now has 9 million followers.

Spoofs[edit]

Bonsai Kitten is a satirical website launched in 2000 that claims to provide instructions on how to grow a kitten in a jar, so as to mold the bones of the kitten into the shape of the jar as the cat grows, much like how a bonsai plant is shaped. It was made by an MIT university student going by the alias of Dr. Michael Wong Chang.[119] The website generated furor after members of the public complained to animal rights organizations, who stated that "while the site's content may be faked, the issue it is campaigning for may create violence towards animals", according to the Michigan Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA). Although the website in its most recent form was shut down, it still generates (primarily spam) petitions to shut the site down or complain to its ISP. The website has been thoroughly debunked by Snopes.com and The Humane Society of the United States, among other prominent organizations.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ According to the owners, October 11, 2011 is not the cat's birth date, but the date of his adoption. His birth date is unknown.

References[edit]

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