Masters of the Internet Purring Away

Cat - Official Mascot of the Internet

It’s finally here. I’ve joked on a number of occasions that I will find a reason to blog about the ‘Internet Cat’ and its magnitude in online (and offline) popular culture, and today marks a great reason to do so. Today is the inaugural Australian International Cat Film Furstival held in Sydney hosted by RSPCA NSW in conjunction with the Walker Art Centre, where the original concept originates from (a glorious concept for a self-professed cat video lurker like myself). In August 2012, the Walker Art Centre (Mineapolis, USA) developed the idea of hosting an Internet Cat Video Festival, primarily as a bit of a joke, but also as a social experiment. The result was 10,000 people gathered together to watch videos of cats.

the internet is catsThe notion of people coming together and paying to watch a compilation of videos that they can watch for free at home is intriguing and powerful at best. Take Aigrain’s (2005) idea of positive intellectual rights, the idea that such positive rights will enable a new synergy that rewards creators in the public space, that the extraordinary benefits from a greater plurality of creators will reward creation and innovation. Aigrain suggests moving away from the restrictive path of locking away intellectual rights as social damage. It’s a full circle, an ouroborus of ideas: free user-generated content ⇒ uploaded onto a free platform ⇒ viewed for free = exploitation of intellectual rights and an entitlement of free intellectual property? Incorrect. According to Aigrain, we are witnessing a positive progression for intellectual rights, whereby from this open space of innovation and creation (of free videos) a new innovative idea developed of the Internet Cat Video Festival, which brings back copyright-based remuneration that rewards the creators. Traditional views of intellectual property and ownership are shifting away from modems of control and restriction and are opening into new innovations and notions of remuneration and creation.

Advertisers have also caught onto the viewer’s active engagement with the Internet cat and developed Catvertising in 2011/2. Although originally a parody, a number of companies have taken this approach, some examples including:

  • The Shelter Project, making juxtaposition between the human’s sand box and the cat’s litter box;
  • Skittles Touch: Cat, part of their Lick the Rainbow campaign; and,
  • My personal favourite is Purina’s ‘A Cat’s Guide to Taking Care of your Human’, which is a type of advertorial developed by BuzzFeed — an internet news media company that challenges the traditional model of print and broadcast journalism.

Buzzfeed itself has used the phenomena of Internet cats throughout its business model: from editorial decisions of having them as a natural source of internet media alongside longform news pieces; internal meeting rooms named after Internet cats; a Cat Internet microsite for cats; and Cat Power, a measurement of your Community ranking in Buzzfeed. Hayes, Singer & Ceppos (2007) explored how the way that information will be sourced and determined will shift to be more consumer-driver rather than the traditional agenda-setting news organisations. There is a “shifting of roles” to a more “social response-ability” of openness and social disclosure, a ‘humanizing of the news’, which BuzzFeed and its unconventional style explore with its fierce focus on digital sharing and engagement amongst users and staff.

According to CBS news, 15 per cent of all internet traffic is connected to cats. There is a universal joy and unity in the Internet Cat. From this sensation of numerous cat videos, there are also the cat celebrities: Henri (le Chat Noir), the existentialist cat; Grumpy Cat, the world’s grumpiest cat; Maru, a Japanese cat who slides into boxes; Lil Bub, the ‘perma-kitten’; and the fictional Nyan Cat. And many more were showcased at the Furstival that showed several short Vine-style videos and longer-style videos of cat(s) and their addictive idiosyncratic behaviour. The question of ‘Why we love Internet Cats so much?’ has been asked widely across the Internet, and a quick Google search comes with a plethora of content asking this very question.

There are theories around: the cats’ cuteness; non-cuteness; their aloof personalities; honest behaviour; emotive expressions; ease of personification; we are in awe of their audacity; a continuity of historical adoration dating back to Ancient Egypt; their exaggerated resemblance to our offspring; and a theory around their ‘unselfconsciousness‘ by Dr O’Meara. The Walker Art Centre and Coffee House Press have also endeavoured to answer this question with their Kickstarter project that has gathered a number of writers to explore concepts around the Internet Cat in an anthology that will be published in September 2015. Perhaps then we will be closer to understanding this Master of the Internet.

Where do you think our love for the Internet feline comes from?

Maslow's Hierarchy of Internet Needs Parody