Tribeca Film Festival: Vice Magazine Makes Cat Videos Seem Even Dumber With Lil Bub And Friendz
"There are only a few hardcore important facts in life worth memorizing, and one of them is that we liked Lil Bub before anyone else did. It's just true, and there's nothing you can do about it."
That's what Vice.com claimed in a post written last July, about a month before the first-annual Minneapolis Internet Cat Video Film Festival, and apparently while Vice was in the middle of funding and filming Lil Bub and Friendz, a documentary about the Internet cat celebrities. Obviously there are documentarians who do away with the pretense of being objective about their subjects, or who are featured constantly on camera the way co-director Juliette Eisner is. But the absolute last thing the Internet cat meme phenomenon needed was a feature-length documentary that's happy to participate in, not examine, the madness. Given access to a variety of people who have turned our world into one that includes the phrase "cat-lebrities," Eisner and Andy Capper come away with…nothing. Maybe even less.
It's hard to even know why they focused on Bub and her owner, Mike Bridavsky, aside from the obvious connection born from a lot of fawning blog posts. Though he lives in Indiana instead of a major city, Bridavsky is practically a textbook Vice reader-- a tattooed music engineer with lots of artsy friends (shown off in a pointless party sequence held at his recording studio) and a potent combination of tech-savvy and cat appreciation. He's also highly uninteresting, at least as presented here; in the film's trailer you can hear him giving insight on to how Bub changed his life: "Everything in my life was pretty awful, and then it got pretty cool." Bridavsky doesn't even seem to deserve credit for how effectively he's managed to market his cat, since we see his friends taking care of designing and shipping Bub merch.
On the other hand, we've introduced very briefly to characters with far more potential, from the founder of the Internet Cat Video Film Festival who says he identifies with serial killers to Ben Lashes, who proudly promotes himself as the world's first meme manager and counts among his clients Keyboard Cat, Ridiculously Photogenic Guy and Nyan Cat, whose popularity has led to an honest-to-God retail store. The fact that Nyan Cat isn't an actual cat but a cartoon kind of dilutes the film's premise, but the pop-up store and the creator's promise that "it's not really about the money" are so bizarre and ironic that they're fascinating-- and a much more unusual story than a guy who photographs his cat, puts it online, and refuses to really acknowledge that he's created a mini-empire as a result.
And then you meet figures like the guy who helps organize the Internet Cat Video Film Festival in Minneapolis, or a gay couple who aim to make their cat the new Bub or Grumpy Cat, and the film takes a bizarrely patronizing attitude toward them, as if people who haven't managed to get their cats on T-shirts yet are beneath them. It's a gross, unnecessarily elitist attitude for a phenomenon that's emerged largely from people in flyover state territory, and as much as Vice may have their heads firmly entrenched in the fishbowl of Internet meme culture, they're the absolute wrong people to step back and understand it. 20 years from now we'll be stuck explaining the Internet cat video phenomenon the way we were Chia pets and Pogs. Lil Bub and Friendz will be part of the syndrome, not the cure.
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