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Of Mice and Memes

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In a meta-catfight, a Canadian ad agency’s new “Catvertising” video announcing a fake cat-video creative division is accused of ripping off an earlier viral video about “Kittywood Studios.” Of course, neither side can possibly lay claim to cat humor, or even humor about cat humor. It’s been a postmodern genre for more than 100 years.

1. FUNNY CAT PHOTOS

• During the 1870s, British photographer Harry Pointer takes pictures of cats in baskets, then realizes it is funnier to depict them roller-skating, tricycling, and sitting for tea.

• Harry Whittier Frees copycats Pointer in the early twentieth century, shooting kittens cleaning clothes and playing instruments.

• New York–based clothing label United Bamboo sells a $50 cat calendar featuring Frees-derivative photos of cats modeling its 2011 fall and resort lines.

2. FUNNY CAT MOTIVATIONAL OFFICE DECORATIONS

• The “Hang in There!” poster of a kitten clinging to a tree becomes a cubicle staple in the seventies.

• “Inspirational Poster Kitten Falls to Death After 17 Years,” a 1999 Onion headline announces.

3. FUNNY CAT CARTOONS

• Garfield launches in 1978.

• In 1982, antihero Bill the Cat debuts in the “Bloom County” comic, often wearing Garfield-branded undergarments.

4. FUNNY CAT VIDEOS

• In 2006, “Puppy vs. Cat” is the first cat video posted to YouTube. It has since been viewed 900 trillion times.

• Later hits include “Nora the Piano Cat,” “Keyboard Cat,” and a series starring a Japanese cat named Maru who likes to jam his body through cardboard boxes.

• A Lithuanian composer creates a “Catcerto” based on Nora’s movements; it’s performed by an eighteen-piece orchestra.

• William Morrow publishes a book called I Am Maru, about places Maru likes to hide.

• Keyboard Cat appears in a TV ad for pistachios.

5. FUNNY CAT PHOTOS ON THE INTERNET

LOLcats —pictures of cats doing things that make humans “Laugh Out Loud”—start appearing in the mid-aughts. Photos are often labeled with intentionally garbled faux catspeak (e.g., “I Can Has Cheezburger?”).

• Online magazine Mousebreath deploys LOLspeak to cover Catvertising vs. Kittywood: “As cats make thare move toward total werld domination…”

Have good intel? Send tips to intel@nymag.com.


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