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How did cat videos take over the Internet?

From Keyboard Cat to #CatsofInstagram, the Museum of the Moving Image explores how cats took over the Internet.

We’re going to make a prediction. If your day involves sitting in front of a computer — or even just scanning Instagram on your phone — we bet that you’ll come across, click on and maybe even share something cat-related. As one viral video collage put it, the Internet is made of cats, from tiny kittens learning to meow (#cute) to felines falling off things (#fail) to pets wearing Donald Trump wigs (#lol) to truly talented creatures who can play instrumentsand compete at Jenga (#omg).

“Anyone who has spent any amount of time on the Internet can see that cats have an outsize role [there],” says Jason Eppink, curator of “How Cats Took Over the Internet,” which runs through Jan. 31, 2016, at theMuseum of the Moving Imagein Queens. “I wanted to see why.”

The exhibition explores the rise of Internet cat culture — from lo-fi “Meowspeak” chat rooms, a '90s subculture that paved the way forLOLcat-speak("I can has cheezburger"), to full-fledged feline celebs likeGrumpy Cat,Keyboard CatandChoupette Lagerfeld(who raked inmore than $4 million last year). But it also delves into our world wide (web?) obsession with these critters. Here’s what we learned.

The Internet isn’t actually made of cats
Hard to believe, but apparently cats are no more popular than dogs online. “This was the most surprising thing I found in doing this exhibition,” says Eppink. The musuem conducted an alalysis of five sites — Buzzfeed, YouTube, Instagram, Reddit and Tumblr — and found that the number of posts or photos devoted to cats vs. dogs was roughly the same. (The one exception was Tumblr, where cat-tagged posts outnumbered dog ones 3 to 1.)
Dogs have the park; cats have the web
While dog owners can take their pets out to the park to fraternize with others like them, there isn’t really a physical space for cat owners to congregate with their (aloof, often house-bound) companions. Which is why they’ve taken to the Internet — and why they're so much more vocal than "dog people." “It’s the idea of the ‘virtual cat park,’” explains Eppink, referring to a concept made up by Buzzfeed Editorial Director Jack Shepherd. “It’s created a community where people can bond over their love and enthusiasm for cats.”

The first cat video is from … 1894?
Yes, there were cat videos before Maru. The earliest one in the exhibition is from 1894, a Kinetoscope of two boxing kitties filmed by none other than Thomas Edison. In fact, a lot of avant garde filmmakers have shot feline footage, from Alexander Hammid and Maya Deren — whose oddly absorbing “Private Life of a Cat,” from 1947, depicts their pet falling in love, giving birth and raising kittens) — to Stan Brakhage, whose trippy 1959 short “Cat’s Cradle” remains a film-school staple.

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“Cats just make for more compelling camera subjects than dogs,” says Eppink. “We understand dogs — they’re loyal, they want to please. Cats are f-cking mysterious. Sometimes they’re just like us, and sometimes they’re like these totally alien creatures.”
We love to see cats #fail
These mercurial qualities allow humans to project all kinds of emotions onto our cats — but they also explain why we love to see cats fail or subject them to our cruel whims. “When I first saw ‘cat breading’” (that's when you stick a cat’s head through a piece of bread) “the whole cat phenomenon sort of started to make sense to me,” says Eppink. “It’s such an assertion of power over these creatures who couldn’t care less about what we think and whose actions and emotions remain so inscrutable to us. It’s funny to see them look so confused and surprised.”
You can manage cats for a living
There is a guy, Ben Lashes, who has made a career of repping such celebrities as Grumpy Cat, Keyboard Cat and Nyan Cat. His title? Meme manager. Um, how do we get that job?

Raquel Laneri is a cat enthusiast and writer who lives in Brooklyn. Her favorite cat video of all time is this. You can follow her on Twitter @RaquelLaneri.

 
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