Cat videos make me smile

Posted Sep 07, 2012 | New Media Project

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By Verity A. Jones

Last week, a remarkable event took place—the inaugural Internet Cat Video Film Festival at Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Ten thousand people showed up, many sporting cat themed t-shirts or furry ears and whiskers, for the 75-minute screening of the 79 cat videos that made the cut. The New York Times described it as “an event that was, from its inception to its closing credits, an online meme made flesh (and fur). … A few dogs came, for irony.”

Aside from the writer’s relevant insights about how even a gigantic web-community of cat video lovers will look for ways to gather in person—“the festival did feed into the desire, driven by social media, to translate digital culture and create community offline”—I was struck by how much fun this event seemed to be and how much delight the writer, Melena Ryzik, took in covering it. “Museum officials were quick to note that it was a playful, not curatorial, offering, less Cannes than I Can Haz Film Fest,” she virtually purrs.

I was hooked. I started diving into the “thickening web of interconnectivity,” as research fellow Kathryn Reklis calls it, looking for those short videos every cat lover in the world has either posted or pondered. My spouse and I spent a very long time (I won’t admit how much) howling with laughter at the cat who sticks his ears under a running kitchen faucet over and over again and then licks the water dripping off his nose as if it were the most precious delight in the world. And the OMG cat who is most certainly possessed. And the stalking cat, who sneaks up, in hidden little bursts of speed, on his unsuspecting owner who is also filming.

We “howled” with laughter, yes, because are actually dog people. (They say cats don’t howl, but what about that bizarre talking cat who sounds like my Uncle Ed after a few drinks?) So we went further down the cyber hole in pursuit of dog videos. Truth? Not nearly as funny. Why is that? Dog-shaming.com might be the exception.

What a delightful hour (oh, there it is … I know, it’s nothing compared to how much real cat video lovers watch) we spent simply enjoying something goofy and fun.

Here’s the point: One of the things I love about new media, and social media in particular, is that sometimes it’s just plain fun and sweet and silly, and if these ridiculous little shared gems were produced by some giant media conglomerate (ok, some probably are), they wouldn’t be so wonderful and they wouldn’t manage to gather ten thousand people in cat ears at a fancy art center in Minneapolis. Cat videos won’t solve the myriad national and global crises we face these days, but it surely can’t hurt to smile every once in while.

Verity A. Jones is the executive director of the Center for Pastoral Excellence at Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis, and project director of the New Media Project which is now part of this new Center.

The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmediaproject@cts.edu.

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