33,900,000 videos of cats eating watermelon, falling off chairs, and having adorably miserable kitten nightmares.
Only after I’d peeled my eyes away from my third musical “sushi cat” video did I recognize the magnitude of what I’d just discovered: 33.9 million cat videos? To put this number into perspective, searching “Canada news” barely hits 4,760,000. Even searching for “Canada” can’t compete with the cat craze; at only 13,500,000 videos, our home and native land produces less than half the YouTube frenzy that our feline friends do.
How—how?—did sushi cats gain a larger media presence than our entire nation? Not sure whether to be awestruck, shocked, or disgusted, I turned to three experts—a media studies professor, a renowned cat researcher and a short-film director—for the scoop on society’s cat video obsession.
DR. CHRISTOPHER J. SCHNEIDER
Associate Professor, Wilfrid Laurier University
Sad Mag: In your book, The Public Sociology Debate, you reference this interesting quote by Burroway: the “privatization of everything.” You suggest that the opposite might be happening: everything is becoming public. YouTube is just one platform we use to “publicize” life. Where do you think this obsession comes from? Why are we so obsessed with publishing our own lives? And why are we so interested in the (often banal) things others publish about theirs?
Chris Schneider: We all want to feel important; we all want our individual selves to be recognized. Publishing, posting, and circulating the relatively mundane details of our lives accomplishes that task.
On the other hand, when other people are doing similar things, it really shows a relatability between ourselves and other people; it contributes to our feeling of normalcy. Watching cat videos, or other mundane details of our daily lives, is kind of boring. So it normalizes the boredom, and in some ways makes people feel less guilty about wasting their time watching cat videos.
SM: Many researchers believe this reliance on short-form media could shrink the viewer’s attention span. That we are so constantly bombarded with information, but have so little time to reflect on what’s going on that we don’t actually consume any of it. Do you think this is true?
CS: I think so, sure. It’s in some ways kind of like drinking from a fire hose: its not easy to do. That’s the metaphor for the information coming into our eyeballs and trying to process it; it becomes increasingly difficult for people to make sense of all of it—which of it’s good, which of it isn’t—to critically process all of these materials. One of the outlets, I think, is distraction: ‘I’m gonna look at this cat video’, or ‘I’m gonna tweet about eating this hamburger’ Rather that trying to really focus and concentrate and pay attention to what people are saying, and where this information is coming from. It’s a basic form of escapism. Daily life—sure its mundane, sure its boring—but it’s also difficult for a lot of people….We can unplug from the difficulties of our daily lives and plug into the relatively mundane details of cat videos or other people’s lives to forget, to relax.
SM: And how about you? Do you have a favorite cat video?
DR. DENNIS C. TURNER
Director, Institute for applied Ethology and Animal Psychology (I.E.A.P/I.E.T.)
SM: You’ve been conducting research on the cat-human relationship for over 30 years; your book, The Domestic Cat, is now recognized in the field as the “Bible for cat researchers.” Why do you think cat videos have become so popular?
DT: One of the reasons I think cats are on the increase is because of what I like to call the emancipation of men; nowadays, men can express their feelings. 20, 40, or 50 years ago it wasn’t very manly to express your feelings. Cats are very emotional animals. I think men today are allowed to say they love cats.
SM: Do you agree with Dr. Schneider that cats might be one way in which we “unplug” from stress or challenges? How do cats affect our emotions?
DT: We have many studies showing that cats are relaxing; they make people more calm, generally in a better mood; [they create] a more natural environment [in which people] lose their fears. We’ve found that cats are capable of reducing negative moods—making negative moods better—especially depression, fear, introvertedness.
SM: When you want to feel better, what do you watch? What’s your favorite cat video?
DT: Definitely the Simon the Cat series: the one where the cat tries to wake up its owner.
Film Director & Vancouver Film School Instructor
SM: You’ve done very well with some of your short films—winning prizes at the Screamfest, the NSI Film Exchange and British Horror Film Festivals, to name a few. What, in your opinion, do viewers like best about short films?
Nick Humphries: Short content is extremely consumable. You can experience a story in a compressed amount of time. Those viral videos you’re talking about, like 6 seconds of a dramatic hamster, get play because they are short and on a very accessible platform and are therefore consumable, re-playable and shareable through social media.
SM: So why do you think YouTubers have become so interested in short, brainless cat videos? Is there something special about cats? Or is it the “consumable” nature of the medium itself?
NH: It’s because cats are awesome.
SM: Most important question: What’s your favorite cat video?
NH: There’s one of a kitten having a nightmare and then the mamma cat gives it a big hug. All while sleeping. It’s pretty much the best thing on the Internet.
For the full article (and many more fabulous, feline-focused reads), pick up a copy of The Cat Issue (Issue 18), in stores now at participating locations. Sad Mag subscriptions and back issues are also available through our website.