We all remember where we were when “Cats Playing Pattycake” insinuated itself into our lives. But the world has changed since that day, not just in spite of the video but in many ways because of it.
Nowadays, we are so familiar with the “What they were actually saying” version, and even the “French with subtitles” version, that it can be all too easy to forget that the “Cats Playing Pattycake” video that took the net by storm on a cold October day in 2010 was unembellished by human voice actors – French, English, or otherwise.
Indeed, the very need to mediate “Cattycake” – as it has come, affectionately, to be called – via a (deeply questionable) human translation underscores not just the shifting priorities of digital cat journalists in an increasingly superficial age but a fundamental revision of our relationship to cat videos as a medium of human and/or feline expression. Inevitably, this need threatens to supersede the original intentions of the artform and replace them with the familiar pabulum more suited to ephemeral favorites like “Fireworks fail” and “Boy falls off trampoline and is humped by dog.”
Revisiting the original piece now, so many years since it left its mark on the world, the first thing that strikes one is the intensity of expression on Goo and Yai Jai's faces as they embark on what to them is at once a high-stakes game of Wing Chun Sticky Hands and an urgent phatic communion in a world without language.
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Viewers of the original “Cattycake” video understood this naturally. The cat video movement, still in its nascency, had not yet been corrupted by the anthropocentric impulse of the early 'teens, nor had it given way to the desire, so prevalent now, to sublimate our immediate experience of cat videos via the interpretive formulas long-since popularized by works like “Bully cat stuffs other cat in box – the English translation.”
In the scheme of things, cat videos have still not reached their maturity as an artform, and indeed there is still some truly innovative work being done in the field (see, e.g., “Cat sitting in a chair 2014, #2”) – but watching Goo and Yai Jai after all these years, discovering for themselves and without mediation both the transcendent joys and the requisite pitfalls of a fully realized pattycake experience, one cannot help but wonder whether somewhere along the way, we took a wrong turn.