The year was 1984 and in Spokane, Wash., Charlie Schmidt was “unemployed and destitute, but there were three things that [he] had: a cat, a camera, and a keyboard.”
Charlie made hundreds of videos of his cat playing a keyboard, now immortalized as Keyboard Cat. The videos lay dormant until he posted one on YouTube in 2007. Cat videos as we know them were born.
Yesterday, the Internet Cat Video Festival made a Seattle stop in its multi-city tour. Cat ladies and gentlemen gathered at Showbox in the Market to watch a series of the web’s most beloved feline shorts.
Everyone in the audience was palpably excited and had been eagerly anticipating the event for weeks. Everyone else was all, “you’ve got to be kitten me.” (according to Buzzfeed, cat people like puns…)
Love them or hate them (and you love them, right?), cat videos have become an industry, launching celebricats like Lil Bub, Grumpy Cat, Maru, and more. So what’s the appeal? Wired Magazine tried to get to the bottom of the phenomenon, but I think that Amber Armstrong, a Seattle-based software developer attending the event, sums it up nicely: “Because they’re funny and they make me happy, and they’re also cute.”
A Cat Lady Networking Opportunity
Just about everyone I interviewed shared the same sentiment. “Who’s not a cat video fan?” asked Beth Steinhouse, a volunteer with the Seattle Humane Society. “They’re fun and cute and just a nice little escape.”
But why pay $20 to watch cat videos in a theater when you can watch them for free at home? MC Will Braden, creator of Henri (winner of the Golden Kitty award at the first Internet Cat Video Festival), told the audience: “It’s not about watching cat videos. It’s about watching cat videos together.”
With just 11.5% of America identifying as “cat people” (again, I’m referencing Buzzfeed here), we aren’t used to being with our own kind. We’ve found solace in an online community of fellow ailurophiles, but so rarely get to experience this IRL.
Cathy Tenzo, who is “obsessed” with cats but can’t have one due to her apartment’s rules, agreed: “We told everybody that we were coming to this, and they were like, ‘oh my God’ and we’re like, ‘yay, we can’t wait, it’s so exciting!’ I think we’re in a very sensible place with people who make sense.”
“It’s validating,” added her companion.
“It’s a cat lady networking opportunity,” said Shane Clyburn, a 30-something Seattlite who works for a publisher. His friend Marianne added, “It’s like I’m with my family. This guy was joking, like, ‘yeah, it will just be a bunch of people watching.’ And I was like, ‘yeah, a bunch of people watching people watch other people.’ This weird cycle of, I’m curious as to who is going to be there, but I bet that everyone else is thinking that too.”
The people watching didn’t disappoint. Attendees wore cat ears, cat shirts, cat vests, cat hats, cat dresses, cat shoes, cat socks, and even cat costumes paying homage to every cat from the Cat in the Hat to Grumpy Cat to Nyan Cat to Hello Kitty to Keyboard Cat to Morris the Cat.
The nice thing about folks who have all gathered to watch a compilation of YouTube videos is that when you approach them and ask them if you can take their picture and post it to the Internet, they don’t even blink when agreeing to your request. So check the slideshow for a sample of the evening’s cat wear (all photos by Helen Pitlick).
We are all in this toCATher
I watched the program from the ground near the stage with all the people who weren’t cool enough for the bar. The group in front of me were sharing pictures of their cats on their phones with one another. I think they were friends, but really, the spirit of cat videos made us all companions.
We laughed as Sphynx cats bobbed their heads in unison to classical music, sat in apprehension as a tabby heroically jumped and then slid his way down a basketball hoop, cried a little inside at the angst of feline imprisonment, and awww’d and cooed at sleepy kittens.
However, it wasn’t all just fun and games. The evening had a charitable element too: proceeds benefited Seattle Humane Society and Motley Zoo, local animal rescue organizations.
Ultimately, the audience took home three lessons: the power of community, both online and off, is an incredible thing; that even if you have nothing, in Charlie Schmidt’s words, “You should do what you need to do regardless of your g**d*** zip code.” And finally, that cats are indeed the greatest creatures on earth.
As proof, here are the People’s Choice winners. May you watch them with others who enjoy them as much as you.