Gentle Internet Reader, I’ve been meme-washed.
I have a friend who hates pandas and owns her own screen printer. She’s also the adoptive mother of an asthmatic cat. This is the text message conversation we had the morning after going out for her boyfriend’s birthday. I call her cat “Donald” and her boyfriend “Boyfriend.”
CAT OWNER: Boyfriend just asked: do you ever wonder if Donald is Jewish?
It’s a bad scene around here. We accidentally slept on the couch last night like 85 yr olds
ME: Cat doesn’t have the body type. He’s lanky. His face is too angular.
CO: He [Boyfriend] then asked if he [Donald] was Christian or a ‘spiritualist’
ME: He’s noncommittal. His wife drags him to church.
CO: Ahahah … yeah probably. Just kind of maybe believes in god but never really thought about it and never will
ME: Yes. Exactly. —
That Donald the Cat has his own line of screen-printed tee shirts, tote bags and buttons may be out of the ordinary, but that his preferences, emotions and spiritual beliefs are discussed casually and in detail shouldn’t surprise anyone with an internet connection in 2013. Our cat preoccupation is vigorous, our frivolousness sublime.
Boyfriend’s inquiry was deadpan hung-over serious. My reflections were earnest. Like most humans, I know to be embarrassed about this.
When I was thirteen, back when Ask Jeeves was hilarious and my family was still using an MS-DOS machine, I took a pretty black and white shorthaired cat from a barn in Montana, to raise as my own in the Socal suburbs. He was my first non-goldfish pet. I named him Sir Charles, because of his dignified goatee.
My memories of those sweet early days with my cat are tainted – by the sheer volume of silly imagery I’ve willingly exposed myself to over the years. Anything cat-related is lost in this absurd, annotated, lol-ing mess in my head. Does anyone remember when cats were cats? Before we brainwashed ourselves with so many memes?
If you can look at a cat and not think about it riding an invisible bike or asking for a cheeseburger: well done, you basterd.
I don’t seek these things out. I’ve never asked Jeeves, or Google, about funny felines, or browsed the reddit threads. Yet my mental meme-washing has been continuous and exhaustive. For anyone who feels like revisiting his or her own kitty cat conditioning, I recommend Brian Anthony Hernandez’s mashable.com slideshow.
He hits most of the big names – OK, I did Google this – my favorites are #13 “Ceiling Cat” (he’s watching you masturbate), #8 “Chemistry Cat” because I’m a sucker for a periodic table joke, and, the referential and totally bizarre “Breading Cats,” which Hernandez lists at #7. I loved those photos of bunnies with pancakes on them too.
Which brings me to a question of vital importance: why cats? I want to understand these gifs, vids and pics that bubble and froth over the internet hourly. Could a craze with the same infectious and ludic power have been possible with dogs, kangaroos, or pandas? I don’t think so.
I’m not biased against pandas, like Donald’s mom, squirrels maybe, and I’m partial to octopuses, but I don’t think any other species is as good a candidate as cats, for three reasons: proximity, Disney and inscrutability.
Cats live with us, in our homes, cartoons and comics have anthropomorphized the crap out of them (we mostly think of cats as mini, furry, mouse-chasing, milk-lapping people) and they’re notoriously indifferent – cats are in this goldilocks intelligence zone where they’re interesting to us (contrast with the goldfish), but didn’t co-evolve with us like dogs, so their cat-ways are mysterious.
Girls are afraid of reptiles and amphibians, and cold-blooded animals aren’t very charismatic. The octopus is too smart (ask Google), the panda too foreign; the kangaroo is a macropod marsupial – practically fake, like a lame mythical creature. Dogs are simple. Birds are for crazy, and, frankly, pretentious people. Cats are perfect. The internet is perfect.
So, what do we do? Now that cat videos have ruined us forever? Understanding “why cats” isn’t going to remove the urges to see them tap dance.
We can roll with it. Maybe use our fixation more creatively. Cat-religion exercise: matching cats, as a tribe of people (cats), with the belief system that best suits their essential nature.
This requires knowledge of animal behavior and a softly analytical wit and is totally doable three drinks in. Branching out to other animals, if I said: moose are Taoists because they’re deeply independent and live in harmony with the five elements – you’d probably be hard pressed to determine if was blitzed or just kind of a weirdo.
Animals can’t take offense if the essential nature of their species is mischaracterized because they don’t speak human. Making it a good way to get back at them. If you hate pandas, you might say they’re: a failed sectarian offshoot of Buddhism with turds for brains and diminished libidos resulting from an exclusively bamboo diet.
Aside from it being a bit of innocuous fun, I feel a lot less ashamed about this type of (amusing, good for multiple occasions) activity than indulging in forwarded YouTube links.
I hope for a future when cats are cats, when our ideas about animal life come from people like E.O. Wilson and David Attenborough – PS shark week is happening now! – but, until we can get back there, if that’s even possible, let’s push the cat meme envelope.
I can imagine cat memes that don’t make me feel like a juvenile delinquent. We all have professional and personal frustrations that we need to relieve by looking at cat videos. Our videos can be more ambitious. We can teach each other things and use whimsy to discuss serious stuff in a safe (cat) environment. The comedy can be a lot sharper.
Chemistry Cat mostly makes puns about the abbreviations for chemical elements, but we’re getting a refresher. Pitch: artist-writer team goes through Marc Maron’s WTF archives and produces a based-on-a-true-story psychological comic strip.
The animal-religion exercise might make a nice board game – a Trivial Pursuit Genus Edition “Science & Nature” section meets Apples to Apples with Monopoly style pieces, only better.
Internet, let’s make this happen. I believe we can change the world into a place with more diverse and satisfying cat memes. And then, maybe, do other good stuff too.