The Cute Cat Video Phenomenon, Explained by TV's Jackson Galaxy

Published On 05/20/2016 Published On 05/20/2016
Jackson Galaxy
Jackson Galaxy | Jeff Newton

Cat videos are a running joke and, let's face it, a national pastime. You watch them. I watch them. Our friends watch them. Parents watch them. Anyone who catches a stray link while flipping through Twitter clicks and watches them.

So does Jackson Galaxy, the cat behaviorist host of My Cat from Hell (currently in its seventh season on Animal Planet). Though Galaxy coaches pet parents how to mellow out their hyper, spooked, and occasionally mystifying felines as a day job, spends his down hours advocating for animal adoptions, and returns home to his own menagerie of animals, he still indulges in YouTube's finest cat videos. He thinks they make a difference.

"The change I've seen is that cats [are treated as] family and not furniture," he tells me. And we've taken ownership of the population; 20 years ago, shelters were forced to kill around 12 to 15 million a year. The number's closer to 3 million today." I think that's because we are owning our responsibility, and views of relationships."

But why are the videos such catnip to us human folk? We asked Galaxy to dig in -- any excuse to post some adorable cat clips:

Meow Meow Purr Purr/YouTube

When cats give a damn, we do, too

"We are so grateful when a cat does anything, because that is not a cat's MO. They don't do anything to please you. When they finally do, you're like, 'Oh my God! Grab the camera.' This great thing is happening right now, and I think that's what people tend to want to share."

Keyboard Cat/YouTube

What separates cats from dogs

"You know, we can pretty much identify what dogs experience, because they do it in a more human way. Cats don't. So, when all the sudden you see a cat doing something that is universally cute, you're like, 'Great! Got to put that on YouTube.' That's how you suddenly have 75 million views of a cat playing a keyboard."

Beata Svengt/YouTube

Cats will not put up with costume shtick

"I don't know if you've seen the sort of viral videos where someone puts a hoodie on a dog, and they put their hands out through the sleeves, now you got the dog eating at the table. Funniest thing! But try doing that with a cat sometime -- and escaping with your appendages intact. It will never work. So, anytime that a cat does something that we find universally cute, like jumping in and out of a box, or something like that, we're like, 'Gotta have that. Gotta have it.' How do we explain hundreds of millions of views of that? Cat jumping in and out of a box. You got me."

Game Show Network/YouTube

Cats don't want to be famous, cat guardians do

"When I first got to LA, I got into this TV show [Think Like a Cat on Game Show Network], with Chuck Woolery. I was working the auditions, in LA Denver, and a few other places, and every stage mom in the world was bringing their cat in and showing them. The cats would have to go through an obstacle course, things like that, and at the end they would win a whole mess of money. I was the behaviorist on call, and let me tell you something: you get a dozen cats on a stage in front of an audience... that is just not fun for the cat. Then you try to get them to run through a maze, or do X, Y, or Z.

"It pointed to the fact that you're better off just trying to catch cats on camera when it comes to behavior, rather than trying create it. This is part of my whole teaching philosophy: cats are not programmed to please you. That's not on the menu. In preserving what we love about cats, we actually shouldn't try to get them to do these things that normally they wouldn't do. It sort of dilutes that thing that makes a cat a cat, which is sort of that independent streak, and their, 'I'll do it when I'm ready to do it.' And now, everybody thinks now, 'My cat can be the next Lil BUB.' We have a whole new generation of stage mom coming out of the woodwork."

Mike Bridavsky/YouTube

There's a smart way to raise a celebrity cat

"I'm not a fan of Grumpy Cat in the least. I don't like the brand that's put out there, and I don't think that, by and large, anyone is advocating for that cat, while they're doing what they're doing. Lil BUB is different. [Her guardian] Mike is a very conscientious human. He's very protective. Also, a lot of the money that he generates, a ridiculous amount, in fact, goes to the charities that Mike now helms. He is intensely involved because BUB has so many health problems. Mike does it the right way."

"I've come into contact with so many people who just want to get their cat famous, and when that's the main thrust of things, it can never be good. It can never be. It's the same way with stage moms with their kids. The whole Toddlers and Tiaras thing, I find that kind of unsettling. Again, there's nobody there to advocate for the child, except for the person who wants to make them famous. The same thing I think goes for the world of animals as well. Someone's always got to be on guard and looking out for what's best for the cat. I've seen Grumpy Cat. You want to talk paraded? I mean, just sitting there, while thousands of people come up to take these pictures... it's hardcore. All the product and everything. It bumps up against what I love about cats, and I also consider myself an advocate for them."


Such a ferocious little beastie! 😈

A video posted by Roux! 💗 (@lilbunnysueroux)

The best cat videos incept the audience with positive ideas

"We've had cats on the show, actually, where it wasn't till after the fact that, you know, I'm like, wait a minute. This person just really wants this cat to be famous. You'll see it happen. All of a sudden there's an Instagram account, where there wasn't before. Certain people do it the right way. Like this season, we do a My Cat From Heaven bit, with a cat named 'Lil' Bunny Sue Roux,' who lives in New Orleans. This cat was born with a physical deformity, where she basically has no front appendages past the elbow. She kicks ass, and she operates beautifully. She's gorgeous, and she does all these cute things.

"She does look like a T-Rex when she stands up. The cool thing was that her Instagram account just naturally started going crazy. Her guardian was telling me how all these people would write to her and say, "I want this cat so bad." So I hooked her up with adoption agencies that deal with special-needs cats, and she was all over that idea, using social media to promote and still entertain at the same time -- that's a win-win. That's what I love to see. I'd rather see that, than a cat selling cappuccinos, or whatever."


One man's cat video is another man's horror movie 

"Maru represents what I love. I don't know why we love seeing Maru jump in and out of a box, but I'll take it. It's this great bonding experience that we have with cats. But one of the things that was really eye-opening to me, was during a tour of Asia, about a month ago, I heard people say, 'I'm afraid of cats.' People say, 'I just don't like cats' or, 'I'm a dog person.' In Asia, turns out that the people who say they hate cats, and the people who say they're afraid of cats, are the same person.

"It's usually because when they were 3 years old, they got scratched. It could be that simple, and for the rest of your life, that 3-year-old is making all of your decisions about the animals that you will and won't invite into your life. A lot of teaching stuff that I've done, like I was doing it in Asia, is about how to overcome an irrational fear of cats. Where you think that they're just going to maul you every time that you come near them. Look, we've seen the same thing with pit bulls. Before that it was Dobermans. Before that it was German Shepherds. It's just these irrational fears that people just carry around with them. I've seen that in alarming numbers. It's crazy."


All adorable animals deserve our attention

"More and more, and I think it's fantastic, is the things that go viral right now are little unpredictable. It doesn't have to be cats. I've seen viral videos of baby goats. I watch these things every night. Me and my wife find these videos every day, that just absolutely puts a great period at the end of your day. We just actually, before you called, we were watching something where a little kitten in a vet hospital, who's paralyzed in her rear legs, the crew at the hospital built her a little wheelchair out of old LEGO pieces. There's this video of this cat zipping around, I mean she's zipping, all over the place. We watched that 10 times, and it just doesn't get old."

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Matt Patches is Thrillist’s Entertainment editor. He previously wrote for Grantland, Esquire.com, Vulture, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Guardian. He's the proud roommate of two cats. Find him on Twitter: @misterpatches.



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