by Lindsay Robertson
Remember the viral sensation known as “OMG Cat”? Of course you do, it was last week. Today I spoke with the world’s foremost expert on internet cat videos, Brad O’Farrell, who in addition to writing the blogs Snuzzy (about cute animals) and Moar Rawr (about evil animals) and a Tumblr entirely devoted to Cats + LOLing is also the loving co-parent of a cat named Amex. And if that isn’t enough expert-ness for ya, Brad is also the original creator of the Keyboard Cat video. (That’s right: he found the cat video just sitting there on YouTube, edited it, created the “play them off” concept, gave it the “Keyboard Cat” title, and cleared the rights for both his video and everyone else’s parodies — all that.) Brad IM’d me about something that was bothering him — and in this resulting interview, he reveals his shocking theory about OMG Cat. Warning: if you read this you’ll probably never be able to truly enjoy an extraordinary cat video again.
Lindsay: So tell me again what you said earlier about the OMG cat because you saw it was my IM avatar.
Brad: I think OMG Cat is actually a sick cat. Cats don’t step out of character to personify people unless they’re sick.
Lindsay: How do you know?
Lindsay: That kind of sounds like cat propaganda.
Brad: Because if everyone’s cat did that then we’d all have viral videos.
Lindsay: We kind of all do!
Brad: That’s true, but also, I did a little research, and a cat’s mouth hanging open is likely a sign of an infected tooth or an injured tongue. It may also be a broken jaw. In which case, its “OMG” face could be in response to the pain it was enduring.
Lindsay: You just really made this a lot less fun.
Lindsay: I was thinking “sick” like “totally crazy in the cat-head maybe!” Like “It’s so delusional it thinks it’s people!” Or: “Greenberg: The Cat!”
Brad: If a human was doing that it wouldn’t be considered cute.
Lindsay: So it wasn’t so much “stepping out of character” mentally?
Lindsay: Its natural response to pain just looks like something we do in response to emotions.
Lindsay: Okay, here:
Lindsay: What about when it perks up its ears? That doesn’t seem like a pain-response.
Brad: If a human were doing this it would also be clearly a natural response to pain or injury. Only like, hammy gay humans or sassy black ladies or Simpsons characters ACTUALLY make that kind of face when expressing “OMG.”
Lindsay: I think I make that face in response to YouTube videos pretty regularly.
Brad: That’s true. I actually think I made that response to that cat video.
Lindsay: Well, I found myself involuntarily mirroring the cat.
Lindsay: After the first watch (you know, the 20 successive watches).
Lindsay: Okay, I’m totally with you.
Lindsay: But at about the :09 mark the cat perks up its ears and moves its head, clearly tracking a creature or object.
Lindsay: So: it’s in hunting mode?
Lindsay: OR, actually, it could be adjusting its poor wittle jaw!
Brad: That might actually be it trying to signal to the camera man that it needs help, like a paralyzed person rapidly blinking.
Lindsay: Jesus Christ, Brad!
Brad: Don’t say “poor wittle jaw.” It’s probably BROKEN. There’s a reason vets have to make up terms like “Feline AIDS” and “Feline Leukemia” even though they are totally different diseases from the human ones, because pet injuries are less cute when people see the parallel to a human injury.
Lindsay: Feline AIDS was actually originally called “Kitty Adowableness Syndwome.”
Brad: Right, but they changed it to be PC, like with GRID becoming AIDS.
Lindsay: So we shouldn’t call him OMG Cat, we should call him…
Lindsay: Chairman Ow?
Lindsay: (I’m joking about this cat stuff but only because the Horror Is Too Great To Bear.)
Brad: We should probably call him animal control. Because it may be true that its owners don’t have its best interest at heart. (I almost typed “parents” instead of “owners” because I’m used to phrasing it that way.)
Lindsay: I would like to get into people who criticize you for saying owners instead of parents but we need to stay on task.
Lindsay: Have you seen a cat act like this before?
Brad: No! But if my cat was acting like this I would take it to the vet and not make a YouTube video.
Brad: Imagine if this was a baby!
Brad: “Check out OMG Baby, LOL, it doesn’t close its mouth, it just looks at the camera in a fixed-scream!”
Brad: “Honey, the baby is doing it again, get the camera!”
Lindsay: Oh God.
Lindsay: That leads us to something.
Lindsay: Another clue: the video is totally silent.
Lindsay: Why would that be?
Lindsay: It’s like Sherlock Holmes! The dog DIDN’T bark!
Lindsay: The owner/parent muted it because the cat was SCREAMING?
Brad: Because people are now aware that their videos are going on YouTube. It used to be that home videos from 2003 were being uploaded and there was weird background audio of people talking. Now everyone is aware that anything they say is just going to be fodder “for the haters.” This person, I am presuming, wanted to get his cat video, cash his Internet money check, and get out of there.
Lindsay: So you’re saying maybe it’s not screaming. That’s good?
Brad: Yes, if it was screaming they would’ve left that in.
Brad: Because it would’ve made it “more adorable.”
Brad: There’s nothing a sick cat can do as a cry for help that people won’t choose to interpret as it being cute.
Brad: “Screaming? I think it’s saying ‘I wuv woo, mommy’!”
Lindsay: So they were trying to avoid the fate of the background-stupid-conversation-having Broccoli Cat hippies?
Lindsay: So basically OMG cat is like a cat with a little dolly bonnet on its head that was put there by, let’s say, a 7-year-old girl in the mid-80s in Florida.
Lindsay: And who walks around on its hind legs with its hands up trying to remove the dolly bonnet.
Lindsay: It’s not really “being people,” it’s quite possibly “really fucking annoyed or in pain.”
Brad: Right. I think really it comes down to an oversaturation of cats. Even people who don’t have cats have already seen all a cat can do. It’s like when someone goes through all the sexual fetishes they can find and needs to invent crazy new shit to keep it spicy. Even if OMG Cat was screaming, it’s still a cat doing something we’ve never seen before, and thus, a viral video.
Brad: Speaking of cats with bonnets, remember that ‘first LOLcat’?
Brad: There was this whole industry in the late 1800s of making post cards with cats on them.
Brad: People don’t realize though that cameras had really bad shutter speeds at the time.
Brad: So those cats were dead.
Lindsay: Oh my God.
Brad: They were stuffed and posed to look cute. And then people bought them because they were cute, even though you could pretty easily deduce that these were pictures of dead cats. And not even cats that had a full life — kittens specifically killed to be posed.
Brad: So, when you think about it, people being dead silent in their cat videos, knowing the audience hates when human intent meddles in their cute kittens… Combined with the fact that we DON’T CARE that the cats are sick or dead… It really says a lot about the patrons of this art. We don’t care about the cats themselves, or the people bringing us the cat pictures or videos. We just care about the “OMG cuuuuuute” chemical reaction we get out of it. It’s pornography.
Lindsay: All I want to do now is see cats doing boring cat things.
Lindsay: Like their main activity: Just Lying There.
Brad: Then go get a cat.
Lindsay: Oh, snap!
Lindsay: To quote The Onion? I don’t want a box of shit in my house.
Brad: It’s like the difference between using pornography and being in a relationship.
Lindsay: This is revelatory shit, Brad.
Lindsay: I’m not sure what the relationship “box of shit” is but actually that makes sense too on a metaphorical and finding-toenail-clippings-behind-the-couch level.
Brad: You can just consider all the non-fun parts of relationships to be part of “the box of shit.”
Lindsay: I already do that in relationships!
Lindsay: “I gotta get home to my box of shit”
Lindsay: “The ol’ box ‘o shit.”
Brad: Still, like how pornography isn’t as good as the real thing, LOLcats aren’t as good as the real thing. I think there’s a sad eagerness to accept that we can replicate all of life’s things on an iPad. Looking at a video of a sick cat doing something funny is never as cute as looking at your OWN sick cat doing something funny.
Lindsay: Is there anything hopeful to say about cat videos?
Lindsay: Like, is there a very very healthy cute cat on YouTube?
Brad: Maru is healthy.
Brad: Maru is healthier than most people.
Brad: He knows what he wants in life and he jumps right into it.
Lindsay: Maru could stand to lose a few pounds.
Lindsay: But let’s not get into cat body-snarking and cat pro-ana triggers.
Lindsay: Do you think we’ll ever know what happened to OMG Cat?
Brad: The Internet’s not like Maury, it rarely does “update shows” but I think we’ll know OMG Cat is okay if the original uploader uploads another video with it later on. If they don’t we can probably assume it is dead.
Brad: Or a one trick pony. Which is basically the same thing to us.
Lindsay: So we need a Proof of Life video for OMG cat.
Lindsay: With today’s paper, for the date.
Brad: Yes, looking at today’s news paper in shock.
Lindsay: Oh my God. TWIST.
Lindsay: The original-original OMG Cat video has been removed by the user.
Brad: Now we’ll never know its fate.
Brad: Wait. NO. NOW WE DO KNOW ITS FATE.
Brad: It’s possible they removed the video because the cat died and they felt bad about uploading it.
Lindsay: OR they submitted it to America’s Funniest Videos who asked them to remove it from YouTube? In nine months we’ll see Tom Bergeron on ABC interviewing the family with their healthy cat who looks surprised to have won them $10,000 and be surrounded by falling balloons and cheering Disneyland crowds? Can we think that?
Brad: Sure. Let’s think that.