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Caturday From TNR.

by coldwarrior ( 37 Comments › )
Filed under Caturday, Open thread at March 10th, 2012 - 4:00 pm

Interesting…

 

 

Cats may not be man’s best friend, but they’re arguably something even better: man’s key to instant Internet pageviews. It’s a long-established fact that Internet content—whether it’s a cutesy video, a photoshopped inside joke, or a longform public health article—has a better chance of achieving coveted “viral” status if it somehow evokes the sound of purring.

But if we’ve come to accept that cats play an outsized role on the World Wide Web, our understanding of why that’s the case still lags. Most of us would simply plead that we happen to think of cats, and their various digital reproductions, as “cute,” but the sheer magnitude of their popularity suggests that there’s something more than a purely subjective phenomenon at work. Fortunately, natural and social scientists have managed to shed some light on the mystery.

The first thing to acknowledge is that there was a deep interest in cats long before there was an Internet. Miles Orvell, a cultural historian at Temple University who specializes in visual culture, said that what the Internet has done is leverage a preexisting fascination. “There’s a contagious effect of the Internet where something that is there as a latent possibility can emerge at large in society,” Orvell said. “It’s not so much creating this interest in cats, it’s more exploiting this interest that was already there.”

Orvell pointed out that Western culture’s interest in cats extends as far back as the ninth century, when an Irish monk wrote a poem about his cat called “Pangur Ban.” It would prove a lasting trope. Nine-hundred years later, Christopher Smart would write the poem “For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry”; in the 1930s T.S. Eliot wrote his famed Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which later became the basis for the musical CATS. Outside of literature, cats became a staple of American popular imagery in the twentieth century, from television advertisements to Tom and Jerry. Cat videos on the Internet that garner millions of hits, Orvell says, should be thought of as an animated extension of the cat calendars of yesteryear.

But why have cats specifically been so successful at soliciting our attention? One hypothesis is that there is a fateful link between cats and human babies that explains their Internet stardom. According to Michael Newall, a philosopher of art at the University of Kent, our inordinate interest in cats may derive from their formal resemblance to our offspring—their big eyes, smallish noses, and dome-shaped heads trigger the evolutionary nurturing instincts that we have evolved toward babies. There may even be a multiplying “superstimulus” effect at work: Newall posits that the exaggerated proportions of cats’ baby-like features prompt an exaggeratedly intense, and involuntary, response in people.

But the reason that cats have catapulted to cyber-fame isn’t purely biological: There are social factors at play as well. Steve Dale, a cat behavior consultant and pet journalist, told me that cat aficionados have been particularly drawn to the Internet because they lack other public safety valves where they can express their affection. “In the world of cats, there is no dog park,” Dale says. “For cat owners, the dog park is the Internet.”

Indeed, the Internet isn’t only a high-volume marketplace of cat memes—it’s also home to very intense communities of cat owners, who gather to share stories and seek answer about their pets. Mieshelle Nagelschneider, author of Random House’s forthcoming book Cat Whisperer, said that cat owners, have taken to the Internet as a means to actively, and collectively, reverse the stigma attached to them: Cat owners have long felt that they don’t get the respect of their counterparts who have dogs, even though there are more domesticated felines (a total of 86 million, according to the Humane Society) than canines. “I think the web has helped emerge this undiscovered beachfront property, that is cat owners,” Nagelschneider says.

There may be more deep-seated psychological responses at play as well. Cats’ famously reserved and withholding personalities naturally seduce us into paying closer attention to them. And unlike humans and dogs, cats are not only natural predators—they are also prey, a reason why cats often appear reserved and stealthy. Cats’ inherent vulnerability, Orvell says, naturally solicits our sympathy, and even puts us in touch with our own mortality. “There’s a complex set of reactions to cats, and the videos bring that into play,” Orvell said

The most compelling explanation for our interest in cats, however, may be the most simple: we’re in awe of them. Nagelschneider told me that we’re inclined to watch cats climbing trees or walking upside down on walls because we wish we could do so ourselves—or, in her words, “When we are watching these videos, they just blow our minds.” To whatever extent that’s true, it’s certainly worth a click.

Perry Stein is an intern at The New Republic.

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37 Responses to “Caturday From TNR.”
( jump to bottom )

  1. Nevergiveup
    1 | March 10, 2012 4:12 pm

    My cats love the internet because that means your usually sitting on the couch or the bed and they can snuggle next to you or their favorite, right on the keyboard


  2. EBL
    2 | March 10, 2012 4:23 pm

    Not all cats are cute…


  3. mfhorn
    3 | March 10, 2012 4:27 pm

    Cat marathon in Jerusalem


  4. mfhorn
    4 | March 10, 2012 4:28 pm

    @ EBL:

    That’s an insult to cats.


  5. Da_Beerfreak
    5 | March 10, 2012 4:39 pm

    EBL wrote:

    Not all cats are cute…

    Even Basement Cat needs Minions. :twisted:
    You go with the ones you can get,
    not always the ones you want… :evil:


  6. brookly red
    6 | March 10, 2012 4:39 pm

    EBL wrote:

    Not all cats are cute…

    Ahhh yes Gloria Allred (what a fitting name for a commie) that for me was the most telling story of the week. The notion of arresting someone over speech is a perfect example of what the left is really all about.


  7. brookly red
    7 | March 10, 2012 4:42 pm

    brookly red wrote:

    EBL wrote:

    Not all cats are cute…

    Ahhh yes Gloria Allred (what a fitting name for a commie) that for me was the most telling story of the week. The notion of arresting someone over speech is a perfect example of what the left is really all about.

    Oh, you meant the other cat… my bad.


  8. 8 | March 10, 2012 4:53 pm

    @ brookly red:

    I posted elsewhere that Comrade Allred looks as nasty as the former Speaker or the former White House reporter…take your pick.


  9. brookly red
    9 | March 10, 2012 5:07 pm

    Macker wrote:

    @ brookly red:

    I posted elsewhere that Comrade Allred looks as nasty as the former Speaker or the former White House reporter…take your pick.

    I guess ugly is just natures way of warning us of evil…


  10. Da_Beerfreak
    10 | March 10, 2012 5:40 pm

    Public Service Announcement -- Daylight Savings Time

    Just a reminder, Daylight Savings Time for 2012 starts March 11.
    Turn your clocks ahead 1 hour tonight.

    That is all.


  11. 11 | March 10, 2012 5:53 pm

    OK, well it another genuinely beautiful day out here in paradise, so for those of you unaware, California law now requires that I not waste this perfect day, but must instead go out and spend it drinking beer and burning once living animals.

    If you haven’t seen my latest blog article, let me tell you, I have out done myself in the ruthless snark department. Don’t read it without a safety helmet and your seat-belt on. (But you really should read it)

    Articles of Impeachment filed against Barack Hussein Obama on Wednesday, March 7th 2012,


  12. Philip_Daniel
    12 | March 10, 2012 5:58 pm

    Ronald Reagan affirms Capitalism and American Exceptionalism at Disney’s Epcot on Memorial Day, 1985


  13. Da_Beerfreak
    13 | March 10, 2012 6:07 pm

    Can’t make this crap up… :twisted:

    Jimmy Carter Says He Puts His Trust in Muslim Brotherhood But Is Concerned About Israel

    Leftover Hope & Change from the seventies… :roll:


  14. Lily
    14 | March 10, 2012 6:30 pm

    @ Da_Beerfreak:

    He has trust in the Muslim Brotherhood but has concerns about Israel?
    Really am surprised this isn’t an Onion piece.
    The one thing you can say he and obamma are on the same page.


  15. waldensianspirit
    16 | March 10, 2012 6:32 pm

    @ Lily:
    Obama just knows to be more discrete until he gets what he wants.


  16. rain of lead
    17 | March 10, 2012 6:35 pm

    @ doriangrey:

    where did you find that?


  17. Da_Beerfreak
    18 | March 10, 2012 6:43 pm

    @ Philip_Daniel:
    “If they want eternal war, well and good; we accept the issue, and will dispossess them and put our friends in their place.”
    William Tecumseh Sherman

    Completely out of context but still a good thought to contemplate when looking at today’s problem with islam… :twisted:


  18. 19 | March 10, 2012 6:49 pm

    Hooray for Islamic democracy!

    Iraqi teenagers stoned to death for “emo” haircuts:

    A group of armed men dressed in civilian clothing led dozens of teenagers to secluded areas a few days ago, stoned them to death, and then disposed their bodies in garbage dumpsters across the capital, according to activists.

    The armed men are said to belong to “one of the most extremist religious groups” in Iraq.

    “First they throw concrete blocks at the boy’s arms, then at his legs, then the final blow is to his head, and if he is not dead then, they start all over again,” one person who managed to escape told Al-Akhbar.

    Iraq’s moral police was granted approval by the Ministry of Education to enter Baghdad schools and pinpoint students with such appearances, according to the interior ministry’s statement.

    The exact death toll remains unclear, but Hana al-Bayaty of Brussels Tribunal, an NGO dealing with Iraqi issues, said the current figure ranges “between 90 and 100.”

    “What’s most disturbing about this is that they’re so young,” she said.

    Al-Bayaty said the killings appear to have been carried out by extremist Shia militias in mostly poor Shia neighborhoods and said she suspected “there’s complicity of the Ministry of Interior in the killings.”

    So I take it that the Cure will not be coming to Basra, then.


  19. Bumr50
    20 | March 10, 2012 7:08 pm

    @ Zimriel:

    We’ve been waiting so long for this

    Freedom from you,

    That we almost believed it was real.


  20. Calo
    21 | March 10, 2012 7:12 pm

    @ Zimriel:
    I feel sick right about now after reading that.

    Right before dinner -- sick.

    BBL


  21. Bumr50
    22 | March 10, 2012 7:12 pm

    In other news, there’s a Jeff Beck gig on Palladia right now…


  22. 23 | March 10, 2012 7:50 pm

    rain of lead wrote:

    @ doriangrey:

    where did you find that?

    Flyovercountry found it and gave me
    the link.


  23. Da_Beerfreak
    24 | March 10, 2012 7:54 pm

    In other news…

    Airbus says China blocking orders to protest Europe’s carbon tax

    Betcha the Orcs in Brussels didn’t see that one coming. :mrgreen:


  24. BuddyG
    25 | March 10, 2012 9:07 pm

    @ Zimriel:

    No good answers: US stuck with Mideast mess

    /Victor Davis Hanson

    Excerpt:

    Let us review: Military assistance or punitive intervention without follow-up mostly failed. The verdict on far more costly nation-building is still out. Trying to help popular insurgents topple unpopular dictators doesn’t guarantee anything better. Propping up dictators with military aid is both odious and counterproductive. Keeping clear of maniacal regimes leads to either nuclear acquisition or genocide — or 16 acres of rubble in Manhattan.

    What have we learned? Tribalism, oil and Islamic fundamentalism are a bad mix that leave Americans sick and tired of the Middle East — both when they get in it and when they try to stay out.


  25. 26 | March 10, 2012 9:32 pm

    @ BuddyG:

    The clear and obvious solution…. Large sheet’s of green glass where various Islamic nations once were. :twisted:


  26. AZfederalist
    27 | March 10, 2012 9:39 pm

    @ Da_Beerfreak:

    China is blocking orders for at least $12 billion (Dh44 billion) worth of Airbus jets to protest the European Union’s emissions trading fees, in a new challenge to the programme aimed at fighting global warming, the aircraft maker said Thursday

    Airbus spokesman Stefan Schaffrath said his company is seeing “retaliation threats” from 26 countries, “in particular from China.”

    “The economic impact is real,” he said.

    Funny that. The economic impact is real while the ability of the carbon trading scheme to change the Earth’s climate is not. So Europe is engaging in a fantasy while reality is biting them in the wallet.


  27. AZfederalist
    28 | March 10, 2012 9:40 pm

    @ doriangrey:

    Well,we do have to be careful, don’t want our oil to glow. ;-)


  28. 29 | March 10, 2012 9:53 pm

    AZfederalist wrote:

    @ doriangrey:
    Well,we do have to be careful, don’t want our oil to glow.

    The oil is 5000 to 15000 feet under ground, no chance of that happening. Send in the bottled sunshine… :twisted:


  29. Da_Beerfreak
    30 | March 10, 2012 9:56 pm

    doriangrey wrote:

    @ BuddyG:
    The clear and obvious solution…. Large sheet’s of green glass where various Islamic nations once were.

    Gas.
    Why incinerate the place when all it needs is a little fumigation to clean out the ticks?? :twisted:


  30. 31 | March 10, 2012 10:00 pm

    Da_Beerfreak wrote:

    doriangrey wrote:
    @ BuddyG:
    The clear and obvious solution…. Large sheet’s of green glass where various Islamic nations once were.

    Gas.
    Why incinerate the place when all it needs is a little fumigation to clean out the ticks??

    To much to clean up afterwards, bottled sunshine leaves far fewer rotting corpses behind.


  31. 32 | March 10, 2012 10:05 pm

    @ doriangrey:

    And no, I did not miss your implication. The leaders of Islam have told us time and time again that they cherish death more than we cherish life. I for one believe that they have proven by their through their actions that such statement are not mere rhetoric, but genuine facts.

    Given that they do indeed cherish death more than we cherish life and that their ideology is that we must submit to them or die, we are left with the moral obligation to give them all the death that they can stomach until such a time, if ever that they decide life is worth cherishing more than death.


  32. Da_Beerfreak
    33 | March 10, 2012 10:07 pm

    @ doriangrey:
    Let Nature take care of the rotting corpses. That’s the ‘green’ thing to do. :mrgreen: It doesn’t take that long and is a lot cheaper than rebuilding the broken oil infrastructure that a nuke would damage. :twisted:


  33. 34 | March 10, 2012 10:09 pm

    Da_Beerfreak wrote:

    @ doriangrey:
    Let Nature take care of the rotting corpses. That’s the ‘green’ thing to do. It doesn’t take that long and is a lot cheaper than rebuilding the broken oil infrastructure that a nuke would damage.

    Then oil infrastructure isn’t built in their population centers, so that isn’t a problem.


  34. 35 | March 10, 2012 10:09 pm

    @ doriangrey:

    Besides, that’s why we invented the Neutron bomb. :twisted:


  35. refugee000
    36 | March 10, 2012 10:14 pm

    Da_Beerfreak wrote:

    Jimmy Carter B Hussein Obama Says He Puts His Trust in Muslim Brotherhood But Is Concerned About Israel

    ;-)


  36. Da_Beerfreak
    37 | March 10, 2012 10:21 pm

    doriangrey wrote:

    @ doriangrey:
    Besides, that’s why we invented the Neutron bomb.

    Neutron bombs are commonly believed to “leave the infrastructure intact”, but current designs have explosive yields in the kiloton range, the detonation of which would cause considerable destruction through blast and heat effects. In other words, they would still make a big mess of things that someone would have to clean up.


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