When I first got a job writing on the internet, I was asked what I thought the most popular item on the CNN was. I think I guessed “things pertaining to left wing politics.” I guessed that because I have twisted ongoing love affair with logic. The correct answer was “animal videos!”
OF COURSE IT WAS.
I should have known. If you asked me now I would have known immediately. But that’s because, since then, I have received an untold number of videos that go like this:
Cat tries to climb out of a tub and falls down. HAHAHAHAHA!
Frog burps. HAHAHAHAHAHA!
Tortoise tries to have sex with anything. HAHAHAHAHA!
Ha! Get it! Clumsy cats! Frogs have bodily functions! Turtles kind of jump up and down and moan while trying to copulate! Ha! Ha!
Wait – that’s not really that funny. These aren’t just endless videos of Uggie doing elaborate dog tricks, or Lassie rescuing Timmy from the well (though you would think that when the same thing happened every week the family might have sealed up that well). Nor are they superb examples of wit where animals show how hilarious humans are like Animals Talking In All Caps.
The animals in most of the videos I get sent aren’t doing exceptionally remarkable things. There’s not much of a twist to them. They’re just animals doing things animals do.
Now, I understand that animals doing things are charming in real life. Animals are great, in part because they are small, and fun to pet and play catch with (you think I mean puppies, but you can play catch with cats as long as you’re comfortable with it being one-sided. Also, fish. And turtles as long as you’re comfortable with their seemingly constant attempts to copulate with everything). All of this would make sense if we all just loved watching animals all the time. If that was the case, I’d just accept that I was a bizarre anomaly who didn’t want to spend time watching cats falling down, or chimpanzees leaping or ants playing the bongo drums or whatever.
But we don’t love watching them – or at least not that much.
If people loved watching animals to the extent that internet video watching habits indicate, then wouldn’t the number one weekend destination be “the zoo?” There are animals walking around doing all kinds of stuff there. In real life! I think the last time I went to the zoo was a few years ago, and it was mostly just kids there. Presumably, because adults didn’t feel like enough was going on to keep them engaged. But I’m pretty sure that penguins were waddling and frogs were burping so… essentially the same thing. Except in 3D, because it was occurring in the real world.
And by that logic, wouldn’t everyone’s dream vacation not be “Paris” or “Japan” or many of the other responses you’ll get when you pose that question, but just “photo safari.” Just “photo safari” across the board.
But it’s not, at least not with the majority of us, because most of us don’t find “watching animals” nearly as entertaining in real life as we do online. A lot of us don’t even find it as interesting as “watching the lights flicker on and off on the Eiffel tower” when it comes to real life.
Or on television! Sure, some people watch the Discovery Channel. But the Discovery Channel executives have to work really hard to get people to watch The Discovery Channel instead of Law And Order: SVU. They have to drop people into the water with sharks to really be effective. If it was just “frogs burping” people would not tune in for that.
But online, well, online people would rather watch this stuff than anything. Real human comedians saying and doing hilarious things on online videos will have a hard time generating the same hits as a cat wearing a bonnet and yawning.
I’m not suggesting animal videos are bad, I’m just suggesting that overriding affection for those videos doesn’t seem to line up with the way we conduct ourselves in our lives outside of the internet. So – why do people love animal videos so much? What is it about a cat falling down that makes you say “I’m going to send this to everyone I’ve ever met” while a video of a hilarious human makes you say “eh, I should really do some actual work?”
Seriously, I’m curious. You can watch this while you think about it: