The dog. Man's best friend. For about 15,000 years, man and his dog have lived side by side, relying on each other for warmth, companionship and safety. When we became literate, we wrote books about our dogs. And when we invented movies and TV, dogs were cast (and paid) just like human actors. They made us laugh and cry and annoy our parents until they bought us a puppy. But then something happened.
Someone invented the Internet and the rise of the cat began.
Before the Internet, it was practically social suicide to be single and have a cat. If I say to you, "cat lady," I know what image pops into your mind: a dowdy woman in her late 30's who wears T-shirts with Looney Tunes characters on them, who had sex once, in the mid-nineties, and complains on message boards about how she can't find a man, a woman who lives in an apartment with many, many cats and kittens and loves them like children; she talks to them about her day and chastises them when they misbehave; when she comes home from a shift at her low-paying job, she is greeted by a chorus of Meows and she says, "Just a minute, kitties, just a minute." In other words, an extremely sad human being.
But then the Internet came along and owning a cat, even for single, grown men, became normal, if not trendy. You were no longer Nate the weirdo from accounting with the cat. You became Nate, the dude with 200,000 YouTube subscribers and that funny cat.
A few quick tests can confirm what we all already knew: that cats reign supreme on the Internet. Alexa, a somewhat reliable traffic measuring service, shows ICanHazCheezburger.com, the LOLCat site, soundly trouncing IHasAHotDog.com, a dog image macro site owned by the same people. 'Funny cat' returns 200,000 videos on YouTube to 'Funny dog's 150,000. And perhaps most damning to the myth of man's best friend, Google returns 606,000,000 pages for the term 'cat' and only 298,000,000 for 'dog.' Dogs, as lovable as they may be, have for the first time failed to conquer a medium.
But why? Why are cats and the Internet so well suited for each other?
An article by Sarah Hepola on Salon.com postulates that there is likely a large overlap between Internet pioneers and cat owners. "What's funny in this cramped, airless apartment?" she imagines the blogger wondering. "Ah, yes: The cat."
That is probably true, however I have to believe it goes deeper than that. Deeper than cats just being funny animals (after all, dogs are just as funny). I believe it goes all the way down to core of what people on the Internet believe and by people on the Internet, I mean the people who make memes, create videos and actively participate in the Internet. Not your grandma forwarding you chain email. The guiding principle of the Internet holds that all arrogance, all smugness and all pomposity be mercilessly mocked, derided and robbed of its gravitas. On the Internet, self-importance is nearly always met with pointed, biting ridicule. The Internet is, after all, the playground of the loser, and when the captain of the football team wanders on with his flowing hair, his zit free skin and his confidence, he is fair game to all of the marginalized people too nervous to say anything in real life.
And what is more arrogant, more self-important and pompous than the cat?
They pride themselves on their grace and dignity. Where dogs are goofy and fun, cats are sullen and serious. Dogs greet you at the door with fevered excitement, while cats lose interest in you after you've fed them. Everything that is great about a dog the palpable adoration, the loyalty, the ridiculous habits and behaviors is totally lacking in cats. They couldn't care less about your rules, your needs, and most of all, your desire not to see their asshole. They will not change for you and they will do as they please. Does that not sound like the worst people you went to high school with (asshole bit aside)? Does that not sound like the confident jock taken down in the end by the lovable crew of misfit geeks from the bad camp across the lake (again, asshole bit aside)?
And so the Internet set about tearing the cat down, robbing the cat of its dignity and grace, making the cat an object of ridicule as opposed to an object of worship. Just as gossip blogs delight in catching the beautiful at their worst ("Kristen Stewart is looking FUGLY in these bikini pix!"), so do we enjoy seeing cats at their lowest: when they fail to leap onto a table, when they attack a mirror, when we put tape on their paws and watch them lose the ability to walk normally.
So, while the numbers indicate that the Internet is a celebration of the cat, what I see is a roast of epic proportions. Never before have so many people, from so many countries and so many different walks of life come together to mock something with such reckless abandon. The world does not seem to agree on much of anything these days, but we can put aside our differences to laugh at a stuck up, snooty, pompous, holier-than-thou cat falling off a table. It's almost beautiful.