Why are cats so big on the Internet? A writer goes to Japan, “where the Internet-feline market began,” to find out:
Marx and I watch a few new cat videos, some of the up-and-comers, those challenging or exceeding Maru’s pageviews. ‘An interesting thing, here in Japan, is that it’s not just the cat partners who post cat stuff. It’s everybody.’ Soezimax, for example, is an action-film maker, one of the most popular partners in Japan, with millions of views. But some of his most popular videos are the ones he posts of the fights he has with his girlfriend’s vicious cat, Sashimi-san, who regularly puts Soezimax to rout. He’s the anti-Maru, the standard-bearer of uncute Internet cat aggression. The videos are slightly alarming, especially when we’re all so used to anodyne felinity. Then Marx brings up Japan’s most popular Internet comedian, who used to post regular videos of himself in a cat café. (In Japan, they have cafés where you go to pet cats.)
‘It’s like,’ Marx says, ‘no matter how successful you are here on the Internet on your own terms, it’s de rigueur that you still have to do something with a cat.’ In a culture of Internet anonymity, bred of island claustrophobia and immobility, the Japanese Internet cat has become a crucial proxy: People who feel inhibited to do what they want online are expressing themselves, cagily, via the animal that only ever does what it wants.