Are cat videos the new opiate?

“Kittens” was the answer Tim Bernes Lees famously gave in a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) when asked what was the one thing that surprised him most about the way his invention of the World Wide Web has been adopted, 25 years on. 

It hardly needs stating: The Internet has provided us with instant access to an unprecedented amount of knowledge (power) and an incredible tool for mass communication (mobilization). Yet “Cats” is one of the most commonly searched for keywords, cat videos and images are among the highest viewed online content (described in the New York Times as ‘the essential building block of the Internet’), and cat celebrities are abound (Grumpy Cat, Lil Bub, Maru, Nala Cat and Cattycake to name a few). An entire subculture has developed around LOLcat memes. Even Downing Street has entered the fray, with Larry The Cat (@DowningSTCat) and Palmerston (@DiploMog) attracting waves of excitement and followers on Twitter.

Why? It’s a question that may sound dumb to active participants of the sport, but has come to fascinate critics, psychologists, journalists, artists and curators alike. Nor is it trivial: the global patterns in how we use the Internet provide a unique insight into the fears, desires and preoccupations of our age. That we choose to spend our time browsing cat videos, pornography and online shopping sites says something. But what?

Procrastination is the most obvious response. Escapism seems to cut closer to the truth. No matter how shit your day’s been, watching a video of a cat fail an attempted leap, or prancing about in a ridiculous outfit, seems to have the power to lift many people’s mood. Whole bodies of research have emerged claiming to back this scientifically, with evidence of reduced anxiety, annoyance, sadness and higher levels of energy, focus and positivity overall among viewers at work. A quick-fix to pacify us for a while.

There’s also something to do with simplicity. Even the format of cat videos is reliable and, therefore, cathartic: always short, digestible and following the same traditional trajectory of buildup, high-drama, punchline and close. Perhaps acting as voyeurs to the comparative unwitting-ness and unintentional folly of these creatures on-screen, appeals to a widespread desire for greater control in our lives – while laughing at their anthropomorphication massages an innate sense of superiority.

The on-screen element is also important. Observing a cat do something silly online carries a much higher comedic value than in real life: it’s their 15 seconds of fame. While the Internet is often an inherently lonely, isolating place; responding to the same video that 12,000 other viewers have enjoyed makes you ‘in’ on the joke, and so part a wider community. The more ‘viral’, the better. If other humans are physically to hand, that’s also good, but not necessary.

Simplicity, community, escape. These are all basic, age old human wants of which the Internet seems to have become a quick source of nourishment, whilst ultimately intensifying our need and hunger for our daily mass consumption of cat videos typifies this.

Sara Jaspan
Tilo Baumgärtel
Untitled (Cats)

Charcoal on Paper
45 x 70 cm
2011
£3250 (framed)
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Untitled (Frisky)

Pencil on Paper 
Paper size - 23 x 30.5cm
Image size - 16 x 22cm
2016
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Miho Sato
Untitled (Cat #2)

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2016
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Miho Sato
Untitled (Cat #1)

Oil on Paper
21 x 26cm
2016
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The Royal Art Lodge
Bath Tugboat

Pencil on Post It, Acrylic on Board 
15 x 15cm
2007
Private Collection
Martin Symons
Spinning Kitten
Marker Pen with Electric Components on Paper
35.5 x 25cm
2016
£160
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Ilona Kiss
Catman

Pencil on Bristol Board
30 x 21cm
2016
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Alli Sharma
Black Cat Red Bow
Oil on Paper
35 x 25cm
2016
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Pär Strömberg
Satanic Feminist Kitten
Ink and watercolor on paper
23 x 20 cm
2016
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David Hancock
Max & Pablo

Watercolour on Paper
21 x 30cm
2016
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James Moore
A Silurean Warrior Abandons Cardiff AD74 

Oil on Paper,
30cm x 20cm
2015
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David Miles
Felix
Watercolour & Ink on Paper
30 x 20cm
2009
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Lisa Wilkens
Three Nights

Unique Dry Point
14.5 x 21 cm
2011
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Sharon Shields
The Lovecats
Velor on printed Paper
30 x 21cm x 2
2016
£150
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Leonhard Lapin
A Coloured Bird

Animated Cartoon
8' 41"
1974
Courtesy of Avangard Gallery, Parnu, Estonia
Peeter Allik
2 Kassi

Lino Cut on Paper
Edition of 50
10 x 8cm
2016
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Simon Woolham
The Shed (Boo Boo)

Biro on Paper
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2007
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Our old cat Boo-Boo loved the shed roof, a good lookout spot for other cats and birds probably. She got really bad eczema later in life and her tail didn’t quite make it with her to the shed roof before she passed away there.
Claudia Alonso
Gato

Lino and Screenprint
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27 x 27cm
2016
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Lucy May Schofield
This Cat Does Not Belong to Us

Monoprint on Newsprint
10 x 15cm
2013
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Ruby Tingle
Collage on Paper
30 x 21cm
2016
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Mike Chavez-Dawson
Dæmon - Picasso and his Cat(s)

black ink, pencil and graphite on 200gsm A5 Black Archive Card
15 x 10cm
2016
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Sarah Jeffries
Pepsi & Puma

Acrylic on Paper
32.5 x 42.5cm
2016
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This was very tempting

Acrylic on Paper
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2016
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Alan Birch
St. Feline

Handcoloured Etching
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2016
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Brian Reed
Sex

Laser print on 180gsm cartridge paper, mdf, glass and tape.
21 x 30cm
2016
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Brian Reed
Lost

Laser print on 180gsm cartridge paper, mdf, glass and tape.
21 x 25cm
2016
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Rui Matsunaga
Cat Observing Butterfly

Oil on paper
18 x 25 cm
2016
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Rui Matsunaga
Cat and Deer

Oil on paper
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2016
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Giulia Lanza
Unraveling n.2

Pencil on Paper
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2016
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Unraveling n.1

Pencil on Paper
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2016
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It's a Jungle Out There

Acrylic Ink on Found Image
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2016
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In Bloom

Acrylic Ink on Found Image
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2016
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Hannah Wooll
At Your Feet

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2016
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Cathy Lomax
It woke him up because it was hungry (The Long Goodbye)  

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2016
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She loved the kitty (La Bete Humaine)  

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2016
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She was seductive (Portrait of a Lady)

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She was trying to read (Bright Star)

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2016
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Cathy Lomax
They took the kitten back to the pet shop (Cat People)

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2016
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