In the last month I’ve had several lengthy conversations about cat videos. Not just about the logistics of putting on a cat video festival for thousands of people, but about the actual merit and reception of individual YouTube cat videos. The first was for my interview with Will Braden, which I hoped would be both sincere and silly simultaneously. The second was during our conversation in which we decided on this year’s five Golden Kitty nominees we’d put up to the vote for the people’s choice competition.
During the interview, Will said the thing that I have always felt the strongest about when it comes to cat videos: “The genesis of it has to be a cat.” I’ve seen way too many videos where the cat is basically posed within an inch of its life in order to fit whatever narrative the video creator comes up with. Often the story really has nothing to do with a cat being a cat. It’s just a cat being a human.
This was on my mind when it came time to finalize the list of nominees. Will had already been overthinking (his own words) for days, and I hadn’t really been thinking. I figured it would be obvious based on both juror input and the number of times a video had been nominated. But no matter what the outcome, Will and I agreed: the videos all had to be entertaining. Number one. We weighed popularity and timeliness. We considered range and variety. We came up with the following videos, which I will now proceed to make cases for, inspired by the one line (and in some cases, one word) reviews that several authors have now published on the matter.
Since nobody seems to be interested in doing a think piece on the nominees and what they say about today’s culture, I will try to do so now, though obviously I have a very different viewpoint since - FULL DISCLOSURE! - I helped pick them and am producing the festival.
This video comes from the very popular creator of the ShoKo Show, a YouTube channel with way more fans than we knew about at the time that we selected the video. This one was fairly new, but I think it has the perfect balance between natural cat behavior and the human hand. It places human motivations on the cat (Shorty), who is simply getting on with her bad cat self. It’s quick, it’s well shot, and it deals with a topic everybody likes: making fun of cats who are high on catnip. Very solid. (Plus, the ShoKo dude made a custom banner for the Golden Kitty Award voting. You have to admire the organized social media efforts.)
It was surprising to me that the Engineer’s Guide to Cats 1.0 was never nominated for the Golden Kitty. I believe their original video did receive a special achievement award either the first or second year, but I’m happy to put their follow-up in the real competition. Although this version is a little long, the first few minutes are solid gold. Again, the creators used cat behavior as their inspiration, and tried to use engineering jargon to explain it. It’s a simple, clear concept, and the delivery is deadpan and easy for viewers to quote and emulate. (It was also my mom’s pick. She had never seen any of these videos and laughed straight through the first few minutes. I think this says something.)
This made big waves when it was first posted. It’s a cat video classic, in which the person taking the video is doing it at exactly the right time to catch the cat doing something different than usual. For people familiar with cats, this cat also embodies one of the main identifiable behaviors of the creatures: when they are caught doing something bad, or messing something up, they simply pretend like it never happened. This Scottish fold doesn’t do a great job, however, despite its best efforts to push the drawer back in, because of its naturally guilty-looking face and folded back ears. It is, in that sense, very human - without the video creator forcing any human motivations upon it.
It breaks my number one rule about cat videos - that the video must be inspired by cat behavior. I’ve never seen a cat that has natural pilot or lightsaber fighting tendencies. However, this video is one that I think is a very timely choice, as the past year has seen more and more videos that follow the format of “Such and Such Movie or TV Show…with Cats!” (Jurassic Park, Orange is the New Black, Game of Thrones, etc etc.) I think this one does it the best of the lot - since it’s so well made, short and to the point, and adds that extra story within a story of kittens getting in trouble, as kitten often do for being batshit crazy.
This one has been the most maligned in the reviews, and I get it. But I also think it’s essential to round out the five nominees. In the time since last year’s festival, it has arguably become the year(s) of the selfie. What’s great about the video isn’t the fact that the cat pops up, stares into the camera (all the while making a face that reminds one of the internet classic, Dramatic Squirrel), and eventually knocks the camera over, but that this cat does it while his owner is trying to tape herself doing yoga. This cat is silently protesting (but without even knowing it, which makes it essential cat behavior).
There simply isn’t a penny to made off the man. There is just no way in the world to get rich fooling around with Richard Brautigan. In fact, the opposite may be true: Mess around with him long enough and you’ll end up in the poorhouse.
Poor old Brautigan. In an age when any idiot with a typewriter and a dictionary can make a fortune writing muck, he has to try to be honest, and report life the way he sees it. And life the way Brautigan sees it is comforting, funny and delightful only to people who haven’t yet invested too heavily in what used to be called greed and hypocrisy. (Those words certainly have a quaint ring to them don’t they?) And not only that, Brautigan seems not to appeal to people who have chosen sides. It doesn’t matter what the issue is, Brautigan is on neither side of it.
Do you see what I’m getting at? Brautigan is a loser. Trout Fishing in America is a loser book. Most of the people who will buy it are probably losers. (I should mention that the first time I met Brautigan we got into a poker game with some people and everybody in the game lost.)
- from Don Carpenter’s “review” of Trout Fishing in America
If you are a fan, please read Don Carpenter’s "My Brautigan: A Portrait from Memory."
"AH, GREAT EXPECTATIONS!"
Sam likes to say, “Ah, great expectations!”
at least three or four times in every
conversation. He is twelve years old.
Nobody knows what he is talking about when
he says it. Sometimes it makes people
It has come to my attention that I don’t have any prized possessions and that the things I would grab from my house, if it were to catch on fire and I had any time to collect my wits and a few objects, would be things of convenience (or inconvenience if they were to go): my computer, phone, and wallet.
But I’d be sad to see Loading Mercury With A Pitchfork by Richard Brautigan go. I have a copy of the book that came straight out of a garbage can at Macalester College in 2004. My roommate’s friend fished it out, and we read these poems aloud to each other, laughing, saying, what a horrendous book of poetry. Then slowly we realized that it was actually a fantastic book of poetry, and the poems wormed their way into my heart the deepest out of the three of us and I was allowed to take the garbage book with me.
I would be devastated if it was gone! It has been by my bedside for ten years, just in case I need to read about a twelve-year-old boy who says things like “Ah, great expectations!” or Walter who coughs every night before he goes to sleep or how William Carlos Williams’ birthday is September 17 not September 3.
Sam reminds me of myself, of course, age six. I had watched the Into the Woods TV special, starring Bernadette Peters as the Witch, and there was a line that I really liked to take out to try in conversations. In the musical, it is Cinderella who says, “Opportunity is not a lengthy visitor.” I did not know what I was talking about when I would repeat this line. My parents did, because they had watched Into the Woods with me, and they liked that I said it without knowing what it meant. It was a good line to latch onto. Although I do not bring it up three or four times in conversation these days, I think of it regularly, as a weapon against my indecisiveness.
When I worked at the Walker Art Center, I sent out a biweekly marketing e-mail to a list of about 50,000 people. As soon as the e-mail was sent, my inbox would be useless for about five minutes, as hundreds of ‘out of office’ messages came flooding in (we did eventually find a better service and method for sending out these e-mails that didn’t subject the sender to this onslaught). Although most of these e-mails were deleted en masse, I always kept an eye out for an e-mail coming from “Wendy” who worked for a British communications company. I will share some of them here.
I bid you toodlepip.
a bear attacked my pet mongoose this morning…
soooo…am off to taxidermist this pm and tomorrow am to get both of them sorted out…in my absence please contact m’colleagues steve or lisa if you need anything that simply cannot wait until noon tomorrow…
i bid you toodlepip
…due to an unforeseen galactic disaster I have been called to our nearest star..
…the sun!!!!!!…anything incredibly, amazingly urgent please contact m’colleague lisa …they will be able to toggle your owl eggs…otherwise I’ll be back here in the morning working out future fractals…or somming…
I bid you toodlepip
no peace for the purely evil…
…and to that end I’m frolicking in the sun…not really but if you can’t hold it in for another minute please feel free to call m’colleagues Lisa or Steve and they’ll do their best to stroke away your cares…otherwise I’m in the office from 9am tomorrow morn and fully awake from 12 noon!
I bid you toodlepip
…….I have been called away this pm to help the green man paint his cave…
…not really but def not here please harass m’colleagues Lisa or Steve …if they’re about…and can answer your questions if you give them the password… “Grendal”…or if you can hold off I reckon I’ll get it done by tomorrow…
I bid you toodlepip
…the spirits have called me away to attend to matters beyond this realm…
…if you concentrate very hard on my astral being you may be able to get in touch with me…failing that you can harass m’colleagues Lisa or Nick…if they’re about…and can answer your questions if you give them the password… “golden dawn”
I bid you toodlepip
..the morning star is unavailable at the moment…
…and will only return to this plain at the dawn of the new day of thursday 19th august due to nebulous commitments…you can harass m’colleagues Lisa or Steve…if they’re about…and can answer your questions if you give them the password…
I bid you toodlepip
I have a week in a nursing bootcamp that I won…
…on that telly programme…”I Want a Really Difficult, Unpleasant Job for a Bit” hosted by someone even cheaper than Vernon Kay…not really…but I’m not here…you can harass m’colleague Lisa or Steve…if they’re about…and they can answer your questions if you give them the password…”fish”
I was in a used bookstore over the weekend and the shelves were not quite tall enough and they looked like they were made of wood laminate, not wood. The selection of books seemed like it was drawn from a hundred estate sales across the city, with no real purpose or organization at all. Many of the shelves were only three-quarters full, which added to this feeling of the store being comprised of only leftovers. And yet, as I browsed the poetry shelf and remarked on how after many months, I still had not been able to find my copy of Carl Sandburg’s Honey and Salt, I looked near the S section and lo and behold, a copy of Honey and Salt. So I guess mediocre bookstores are good for something, sometimes.
"This is a beautiful library, timed perfectly, lush and American."
- The first sentence of The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966
I found this book a couple weekends ago at the St. Croix Antiquarian Booksellers shop in Stillwater, MN. I always search for the Brautigans in used bookstores because it’s very difficult to find the versions with these original covers, all featuring Mr. Brautigan and a variety of pretty ladies.
This book, by the way, is my favorite novel of his so far. His prose speaks clearly and directly to my soul.