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Fast forward to right now and you might think the Egyptians have us beat. We have no temple to cats, no festival with hundreds of thousands of people celebrating in their name. But we don't really build temples anymore; we put things on the Internet. Millions of people go there in their name.
It is easy to think that cats might just belong in some ghetto of the Internet, like pornography or fantasy sports teams, until you start paying attention to every time they show up. A snapshot of it looks like a collage of our entire culture: kittens presenting the worst lines of Sam Sifton's restaurant reviews, someone on your Facebook page making a joke about Easter with pictures of rabbits and cats, that guy Tyler from Odd Future rapping while wearing a cat T-shirt, NPR announcing that it devoted its Instagram account to only pictures of cats, cats rallying for Obama, and those are only things that happen while you're trying to do something else.
Then the Professor is sending you these links, like, every day, about "How Your Cat is Making you Crazy" or a cat with the same name as you at an animal shelter, or this really great mug shot of a cat or cats dressed up like literary characters in the New Yorker or cats that somehow physically embody the spirit of certain fonts or cartoons of cats on drugs, and you start thinking that either you have crossed the line into becoming that person who has created a delusional, all-encompassing conspiracy theory based around the facts of your own personal life or that cats really have permeated our culture to every possible degree.
You try to think that you're not crazy, so you email Madeleine Rae Davies, a blogger for Jezebel who sometimes works the cat beat, and she sums it up like this, "People go fucking crazy over them. Every month, there's a '[INSERT ANIMAL] is the new cat!' meme, but it never really sticks. Right now, sloths are having their time in the sun and before that it was otters and before that it was lorises, etc., etc., but cat videos have never gone away. They're classic like George Clooney and pizza margherita. No one is ever going to stop liking those things."
If you want to put away the theories, just turn to the science. There is a YouTube clip from a couple of years back entitled "The Science of Cute" that quotes the work of two researchers, Konrad Lorenz and Paul H. Morris, who explain the biological reasons of how and why animals look cute.
For them, it comes down to big eyes and big heads and little bodies and uncoordinated movements, all of which apparently remind us of babies and nurturing small, soft things, something we are apparently biologically hard-wired to do. Which is a fine explanation, if you don't mind the fact that it doesn't explain why we look at cats more than say penguins or lambs or even puppies, which get some attention but nowhere near the attention cats get.
A couple weeks ago, the Professor asked me to cat-sit while she was on vacation. So, I hung around her place, drinking coffee and reading and filling up a bowl with cat food whenever it seemed low. The cat didn't like me or something. He would leave the room if I was in it, would yell for me to let him out and then rush out the door before I could run my hand along his back.
After a few days of this, I found him on a couch, sleeping in a spot where the sun came in through the window. I picked him up and laid down with him and the sun patch on my chest. I whispered in his ear, "Why?" He only purred, his warm weight on my chest while we both went back to sleep.
I dreamed I was in a big warehouse full of cages and those cages had cages inside of them that each had a cat inside of it and each cat was making the most horrible kind of cat noise that a cat is capable of making all at the same time so that I could only hear this chorus of screeching horror. Some of the cats had mange, so their fur was peeling off like skin on a zombie. A cat had one eye hanging out of his head like he had been hit by car. There were cats with missing limbs. A voice on a loudspeaker was saying, "Arthur, Bill, Biscuit, Blackie, Boots, Cheshire, Chester, Fraidy, Ginger, Milo, Mittens, Muffin, Princess, Patch, Sassy, Shadow, Tiddles, Tiger, Whiskers." And these cats were being let out of their cages one by one and led into this room that was clearly labeled "GAS CHAMBER," but they couldn't read the sign because they were cats.