Cats Rule the Internet. But Why?
Since it’s Sunday, how about a little non-political distraction? Besides, I love cats and any opportunity that presents itself where I can tweak dog owners a bit is welcome.
In an article by a young intern at The New Republic, Perry Stein writes about the fact that posting cat pictures or writing about cats will bring more readers and links than writing about dogs. But why is that?
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.
Don’t get me wrong. I love dogs. They are loyal, loving, smart, and wonderful companions whether you live alone or in a family setting.
Cats are otherworldly. Ultimately, I think that in the back of most cat lovers’ minds is the idea that their pet is an alien species, visiting earth for a while in order to capture and captivate us with their strange and wonderful antics. Their intensity, their grace and agility, their ability to shamelessly manipulate us — so unlike dogs, unlike any other animal on earth.
In Theodore H. White’s autobiography “America in Search of Itself,” the author relates his experience in the 1950’s when he worked for the old Collier’s magazine and was asked by management to investigate why the magazine was bleeding readership and going bankrupt.
White examined statistics that didn’t tell him what he was to find out later; that television was replacing the mass market magazines like Colliers, Saturday Evening Post, Harper’s, and other national news/feature publications that reined for 75 years as venues where advertisers could sell their wares to a national audience. But White found something I think is fascinating; if Colliers ran a cover that featured a cat, newstand sales soared by more than a million. If they featured a dog or puppy, sales dropped. Probably something akin to that phenomenon is at work on the internet.
Someone once asked me what cats are thinking about when they look you straight in the eye and stare. “Lunch” I answered. The Geico commercial about the couple who took in a black panther rather than spend the money on a home security system is revealing in this respect. The panther sits atop the dresser eying the couple lying wide awake in bed, terrified. His stare is both frightening and mesmerizing. Is part of that the fact that for 3 million years, hominids were one of the major food sources of the ancestors of cats? Are our brains hard wired to fear and worship the beasts?
In the end, cats are what they are and many of us – about 86 million – try not to think why.
Besides, I’d like to see a dog look as relaxed and unconcerned as my Lucky.