Well Well Well

The Local Cafe Turning Viral Cat Videos Into an Art Form

And why looking at cats on the internet is actually good for your health.

By Haley Shapley May 14, 2024

Look at me! It's good for your mental health.

Rae Kearns was a cat bouncer and a pawtender before moving into the “made-up” job she loves as marketing meownager for Neko Cat Cafe. In this role, she is responsible for the local cat cafe's contributions to one of the greatest triumphs of social media: cat videos.

That’s right, she spends her days documenting cat backstories, cats at work, and cats committing crimes for Neko’s 223,000 followers on Instagram and 459,000 followers on TikTok. And this is important work—as the New York Times once pointed out, cat pictures are “that essential building block of the internet.” (They’re certainly an essential building block of my phone, with 1,249 photos in my camera roll currently dedicated to feline friends.)

What impact could all these cat videos—of which there are more than 2 million on the internet—have on us? A study published in the scholarly journal Computers in Human Behavior tried to get at the answer. The findings included:

  •  People were more energetic and felt more positive after watching cat-related online media than before.
  • People had fewer negative emotions, such as anxiety, annoyance, and sadness, after watching cat-related online media than before.
  • The pleasure people got from watching cat videos outweighed any guilt they felt about procrastinating.

Even though people could’ve felt bad about wasting time following the antics of a SpongeBob-loving aristocat with a British accent or a chill orange cat who likes to dance, instead they were bolstered by their preferred method of procrastination. Yes, it turns out that looking at cat videos is actually healthy.

“Media is often criticized (sometimes rightfully so) for harming society—for making us violent, confused about science or even narcissistic,” wrote the study’s author, Jessica Myrick, in an article for The Conversation. “This study, though, indicates that media use can have a beneficial impact. Even a short-lived boost in one’s mood may help someone make it through a day or charge through an unpleasant task.”

Kearns has thoughts on the topic, too. “Cats are slinkies with big emotions,” she says. “I don’t think there’s any part of them that isn’t inherently amusing. They’re the rubber chicken of animals, just so silly and so fun.”

IRL, Neko has locations in Seattle and Bellingham. At the Capitol Hill outpost, you can order coffee, beer, wine, and light nibbles, then hang out with the cats in their playroom. Some people have ventured to Seattle solely to visit the cats, based on their social media personas. There are usually about half a dozen who are adoptable at any one time—Neko partners with Regional Animal Services of King County—mixed in with a crew of socially adept permanent residents who help the newbies get adjusted.

@neko.cat.cafe Replying to @☝🏽 🍉 CLariFying the type of gigantic Danny Phantom is 😌 #nekocatcafe #catcafe #chonky #chonkycat #seattle #seattlewa #dumbcats #sillycat #catofthemonth #dannyphantom #tuxedocat #bellinghamwa #cafecats #catsoftiktok #cattok @NEKO Cat Cafe ♬ original sound - NEKO Cat Cafe

When it comes to creating content, Kearns has learned what the cat video connoisseurs want. You can never go wrong with something like Nigel climbing in the rafters like a ninja. “That video went everywhere,” she says. “You don’t have to speak the same language to get it, so it can grow really big.”

People also look forward to learning about the resident of the month—this month is Zest—who get several video features and even a pin in their honor. (“This is typically a month where I get called out for bias because Zest is my favorite cat,” Kearns says. “He’s orange, he’s floppy, he’s perfect.”) Ascribing motivations and stories to the cats is a fun extension of the anthropomorphizing most of us to do with our pets, just on a bigger platform.

“We are all looking at them and making characters out of them. Realistically my cat and I have never spoken, but in my head, she’s told me what she means,” Kearns says. “Once you have 500 cats come through, individual personalities are so insanely different. Mickey always looked like a rat, so now she’s this criminal mastermind because she looks like a cartoon mob rat.”

So we have some evidence that cat videos are good for us and we know they’re entertaining. But why do we love them so much? After all, there are just as many dog videos as cat videos out there, but cat videos are more likely to go viral.

For one, we’re hardwired to respond to cute faces with big eyes—it’s part of what makes us want to protect babies and keep the species going—but that also applies to most animals. Perhaps it’s that cats are mysterious. Humans domesticated dogs, but cats domesticated themselves and appointed us as their caretakers. That’s pretty ballsy. We don’t quite understand how they work, which leads to a fascination.

Emily Huh, formerly the editor-in-chef at Seattle-based I Can Has Cheezburger, an early aggregator of cat memes, shared another theory with Buzzfeed:

“In regards to why cats are more popular than dogs on the Internet, I think it’s because cat owners don’t have a cat park or a place where they can congregate in person to talk about their cats like how dog owners have a dog park to talk about their dogs. The Internet has provided a place for cat owners and fans of cats to talk about their own cats, comment on how hilarious, cute, or evil their cat is and swap stories, pictures, and videos.”

Kearns, for one, is glad that people like cat videos just as much as she does, whatever the reason might be. “I get to make myself laugh, and the notion that people come along with me on that is incredibly fun,” she says. “I’ve somehow tricked people into thinking it’s a job.”

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