"It was a black and hooded head; and hanging there in the midst of so intense a calm, it seemed the Sphynx's in the desert. 'Speak, thou vast and venerable head,' muttered Ahab, 'which, though ungarnished with a beard, yet here and there lookest hoary with mosses; speak, mighty head, and tell us the secret thing that is in thee.'" — Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; Or, the Whale
"I CAN HAZ CHEESBURGER?" — Happy Cat, unattributed photo
A list titled "Why We Look at Cats" would look something like this:
I know that's what the list looks like because I've been carrying it my wallet for the past three months. A summary of that list looks something like this:
Listen, we look at cats an awful lot these days and nobody really seems to know why. This is a good place to stop if you don't care about that. Here is a gallery of pictures of cats instead. We won't judge.
A few months ago, the newspaper's editorial staff was assembled around the conference table to discuss the major stories we planned to cover in the coming year. I had brought a blue-lined reporter's pad scribbled over with incoherent notes, as per usual. The business reporter explained an intricate relationship between public transportation projects and business developers. The crime reporter recounted details of an unsolved murder that continues to haunt a neighborhood on the Westside. A framed issue of the newspaper hung on the wall with a big picture of a Remington handgun.
After about a half hour, the room's attention turned to my direction. I looked down at the notepad and my eyes settled on a four-letter word that I'd written in all capital letters in the right margin. I closed my eyes and said it aloud.
The room was silent. When I opened my eyes, the entire table was looking at me. The news editor's face was screwed up, as if he had just tasted something both sour and rancid. Another editor asked, "What about cats?"
"I think," I paused. "Just cats. I think cats are a big story right now."
"But, what about them?"
I looked at the notes on my reporter's pad as if they had anything to do with cats, trying to make up something to say about cats.
"I read this, like, story in the New Yorker the other day." I paused. Everyone stared. "And, well, I didn't actually finish it, but the beginning was this part about an executive at YouTube explaining entertainment history for the past 50 or 60 years. He said this thing about how network television, back then 50 or 60 years ago, was a mass entertainment at the time. Like, everyone watched the same thing or if they didn't watch it, they knew somebody who did or had an opinion about it or something. Then, cable came along and that mass entertainment became fractured into these niche entertainments. Like ESPN or MTV, they could be kind of specific while still being about broad things like 'sports' or 'music.' Then the Internet happened, which was like a compound fracturing of that fracture, and people didn't even have to watch the same channel anymore. Like, one person could just be into watching videos of horseback riding or something and another person could not even realize that videos of horseback riding exist. But what that leaves us with right now are fewer and fewer of the big mass cultural entertainments. Like, the things that everybody knows about or has seen or has some opinion about one way or the other. Like, the Beatles playing on 'Ed Sullivan' or, just, I don't know, just like the idea of the Beatles quote unquote. So, what I think I mean when I say cats are a big story is that cats might be the big mass entertainment of our time."
The news editor let out an emphasized sigh. Some people shuffled papers.
"I guess what I'm trying to say is that if understanding the Beatles is important to understanding the '60s, trying to understand cats is just as important to understanding our time, like, you know, post-9/11."
The meeting ended about an hour later.
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