When Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web as a space for people to share information, it is unlikely that he meant for it to be a space dominated by furry felines. But alas, the Internet LOVES cats. Cat images and videos are among the most popular links on the web.
What is it about cats that make our culture obsessed with them?
The HIGHLY logical reasoning I compiled is as follows:
1) cats are cute
2) cats are smart
3) cats are funny
4) cats are cool
However, after pawing through some research, I discovered there is actually quite a fascinating history behind media interest in cats.
In the 1870s, prior to existence of pinning on Pinterest and friending on Facebook, people used to exchange carte des visites of themselves, their family, celebrities, even attractive strangers. Think of Pokemon cards, then put your face on instead of Charizard. Boom, you got it. Photographer Harry Pointer decided to launch a series of photos of his pet cats posing in cute and funny ways. The “Brighton Cats” photoset became popular collectables, and by 1884 Pointer had published around 200 different pictures. In many ways, the Brighton Cats of the late seventh century can be seen as the original LOLCATS.
Fast-forwarding ahead a few decades, another photographer named Harry, Harry Frees, strove to brighten the dark mood of the Great Depression with novelty postcards of cats and other animals in human situations. Similar to the “Brighton Cats,” the focus remained on the absurd depiction of cats dressed up and doing human things. Like, cats smoking, in school, and fishing.
As photography and photo editing became more common and accessible to the general public in the 1960s and 1970s, cute and entertaining cats became common on posters. Pre-Internet, when the world must have just been a giant IMAGINUS poster sale, people bought funny cat posters such as the popular “Hang in there” to spice up their bedrooms and crappy apartments. This one was considered a motivational poster; I suppose it cheered people up in the 1970s like the dozens of Internet cats we have today cheer us up.
Which brings us to the modern era, the era of the World Wide Web. LOLcats (Laugh Out Loud Cats) began appearing on the website ICANHAS.CHEEZEBURGER.com and featured amusing cats with captions in a semi-English Internet language, known as LOLspeak. From LOLcats came “Caturday,” as new photos were added every Saturday. Yes, believe it or not, there was a time when it took a whole week to see fresh felines. Some favourite cats from this include “Cookie Cat,” “Monorail Cat,” “Ceiling Cat,” and “Lime Cat.”
The IMPACT typeface with LOLspeak that many of us were first introduced to online is now a part of images of all sorts online. Just as these captions have expanded to most memes, cats have converged from image to video, making up a significant number of popular YouTube crazes.
Japanese cat, Maru, is widely cited as the most popular cat on the web. Known most notably for wearing boxes on his head, this cat has more than 250 YouTube videos and 258 000 subscribers on his channel, which started in 2008. But most amazingly, his videos have an unbelievable combined 186 159 000 views, making him the leading cat celebrity of YouTube. I mean, it’s not Gangnam style, but decent considering he’s a cat.
Another notable Internet sensation is Fatso AKA Keyboard Cat. He and owner Charlie Schmidt may not have the raw number of views as some of his fierce rivals like Maru, his popularity as a meme is significant. Filmed in the 80s, but not soaring to success until the late 2000s, the keyboard-playing cat became known as a fail meme. Basically, whenever someone would have an EPIC FAIL, he would be cut off by the keyboard cat and his catchy tune. Fatso even ended up popping up on The Daily Show, which transitioned him from YouTube craze to television star.
Returning to the stats, according to Time magazine, the most popular single cat video of all time is “surprised kitty” which consists of a hilariously small kitten being tickled for seventeen seconds.
However if we include animated cats, “surprised kitty” cannot compete with Nyan Cat, a pixelated flying cat animation set to a previously unknown Japanese song. Nyan Cat has now garnered 78 million views. There are remixes and parodies, challenges like Nyan Cat 10 Hours — where viewers are encouraged to try to last 10 hours watching and listening to the video — plus Nyan Cat games and smartphone apps.
As Nyan Cat’s creator Christopher Torres puts it, “cats are like the Internet’s mascots.” With our lives so deeply immersed in the Internet, while not imperative, it is certainly interesting to consider the significance in the cyberspace we live and breathe that cats have. From the cats des visites carte des visites to Maru, Nyan Cat, and the thousands of cat blogs and Pinterest pages, we clearly have a soft spot for fuzzy felines.
While we can speculate on why cats are such a hit, because they cheer us up and make us laugh, we can never scientifically know for sure. But one thing is true, while in our desperate attempts for celebrity status, we may try, humans will never be able to be quite as cute, funny, smart, and cool as cats…
…despite this guy’s admirable attempt:
This article has been re-worked from a course assignment by the author on the topic of internet cats. all sources available upon request or hyper-linked to borrowed images.
Molly McCracken, when not in FIMSSC council meetings, spends her time looking for truly original ideas for fourth-year assignments.