Blog Post 12.5: Passages for Wednesday’s Class

Hi everyone,

Here’s a thread for Wednesday’s reading by Shafer (you can find the online version with video embeds here: by class time Wednesday, you should post in this thread a passage (roughly 2-4 sentences) from Tufecki’s essay that you find particularly interesting, surprising, inspiring, problematic, or otherwise significant. Remember to cite the page number for your passage.

24 thoughts on “Blog Post 12.5: Passages for Wednesday’s Class

  1. “This is to say: the scrutability of the cat video’s charms has both aesthetic and industrial functions. The short, observational, comical scenarios that exemplify the cat video require little capital investment (most cat videos appear to be shot on cell phone cameras) and only entail rudimentary technological and aesthetic skills, but they can command significant capital. The form has been propelled forward by the limited requirements for technology and skill needed to produce and exhibit a cat video but it has been cemented as a cultural trend by the tool that capitalizes the popular circulation of the cute, easily digestible video shorts” (Shafer, 5/18 or pg. 4).

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  2. “Cat video production is a kind of self-aware filmmaking that invites viewers to have a straightforward relationship with what they are seeing on screen and to experience what they are seeing through a “nearly physical sensation.” A cute cat video is not trying to get you to identify with characters or follow a story or invest emotionally in an allegory: it’s showing you something to make you laugh, go “awww,” and click on another cat video” (Shafer, 4).

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  3. “The YouTube interface and the aesthetic formula of the viral cat video reflect this global visual trend of cheap, fast, rudimentary art objects which embrace both depthless spectacle and the sleek commercial imperatives of consumer electronics and their interfaces. According to art historian Jinying Li, ‘superflat vision has increasingly become (or is becoming) a global cultural trend in the cyber-age, and its message is being articulated across various media that are rapidly converging.’ Li offers as examples the ‘current revival of comic-book culture in Hollywood’ as well as the design of consumer electronics, saying ‘we should be reminded that before Murakami coined the tern, ‘superflat’ was in fact a well-advertised model name for Panasonic’s flat-screen television.’ As we will see, the cat video is also a convergence object with roots in commercial promotion” (Shafer, 3).

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  4. “D.E. Wittkower, who reads cuteness as the “dominant aesthetic category in digital culture,” contrasts the allure of the cute with the dehumanizing graphical interfaces of the Internet. He suggests that our cultural obsession with the cute is an instinctive mitigation of the “foreign, cold, and uncaring” digital environment. Whether the affective connection evoked by cat videos is framed as a potential facilitator of progressive possibility, a cynical acknowledgement of our drive toward pleasure over principle, or an instinctive response to new media’s alienations, it is clear that cuteness is a central tenet of the cat video’s allure and a primary feature of the cat video’s discursive construct” (Shafer, 8-9).

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  5. “The visibly invisible hand of the person producing the scenario wherein cats become a cinematic attraction is the central gesture of this cat video. On the one hand, the film straightforwardly reveals its artifice in the first gesture, but on the other hand, it’s staged for the camera. The sleight of hand is constitutive to the form, but the acknowledgement of that sleight is similarly central to its significations. This gesture positions the spectator as both pleasure seeking and as complicit in the knowledge that she is being manipulated for the sake of pleasure. It also highlights the lack of narrative absorption in the short: the apparatus is laid bare and it does not detract from the appeal of the work, it constitutes the appeal.” (Shafer, after figure 4)

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  6. The YouTube interface and the aesthetic formula of the viral cat video reflect this global visual trend of cheap, fast, rudimentary art objects which embrace both depthless spectacle and the sleek commercial imperatives of consumer electronics and their interfaces. According to art historian Jinying Li, “superflat vision has increasingly become (or is becoming) a global cultural trend in the cyber-age, and its message is being articulated across various media that are rapidly converging.” (Shafer 3)

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  7. The camera loves cats They are irresistible objects for the cameras and screens of online video producers. They’re playful, irreverent, cute, funny, and agile. Like Garbo’s or Monroe’s, their faces are both inscrutable and transparently emotional. Their antics recall the best slapstick bits of early cinema and their furry, purring bodies produce intense affective lures for viewers of online video.

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  8. “In his essay on cat videos, D.E Wittkower argues that the speed of life in the digital era has led to art that is more ’emotionally immediate.’ … Wanda Striven defines the cinema of attractions’ relationship to cinema history by noting that ‘it can be considered as designating a specific period as well as a transhistorical style, a historical film practice as well as a universal ilm practice that appears, disappears and re-appears like a cyclical phenomenon.'” (Shafer, 4)

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  9. A cute cat video is not trying to get you to identify with characters or follow a story or invest emotionally in an allegory: it’s showing you something to make you laugh, go “awww,” and click on another cat video. The cinema of attractions model offered cinema studies a revolutionary new model when it was introduced, because it allowed film scholars to rewrite the hegemonic dominance of narrative absorption in film history. In this moment, when film scholars are beginning to unpack the aesthetics of the online video, the concept of the cinema of attractions offers a useful figure for contextualizing and analyzing the globally ubiquitous attractions of the Internet cat video and its non-narrative emphasis on spectacle and amateur aesthetics.

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  10. “In this moment, when film scholars are beginning to unpack the aesthetics of the online video, the concept of the cinema of attractions offers a useful figure for contextualizing and and analyzing the globally ubiquitous attractions the Internet cat video and its non-narrative emphasis on spectacle and amateur aesthetics. In the case of the cat video, however, it promotes a kind of superficial absorption” (4).

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  11. “The short duration and minimal editing of the typical cat video invokes and re-frame the aesthetic forms of early cinema, with its emphasis on spectacle and actuality…Their minimal editing suggest a cinema verite-like spontaneity and sincerity; and, their absorptive forces on the cat in action opens a space for spectators to locate their bodes in relation to the screen”(3).

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  12. “The YouTube interface offers this series of views: it draws the spectator in and across the screen toward its recommended promotions. The superflat aesthetics of the cat videos within the interface act as a kind of visual pedagogy that habituates viewers to a mode of viewing that is not about resistant possibility but about consumer control: Li’s “animated shopping gaze.” Cute cat videos locate the 21st Century spectator pushed up against the picture plane on both sides: the cinema of attractions-like pleasures of the cute cat video and the pedagogical thrust of YouTube’s “vectors of control” make visible the limited dimensionality of representation in an era of flatness and dispersion.” (last page)

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  13. Cute cat videos embrace a banal mise-en-scène. Their shaky camera movement foregrounds the videographic dispositif of the amateur videographer and their minimal editing suggests a cinema verité-like commitment to spontaneity and sincerity. Their absorptive focus on the cat in action opens a space for us to locate our bodies in relation to the screen.

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  14. “As consumers, we watch cute cat videos with what Li calls ‘an animated shopping gaze.’ Li, who coins this term in a discussion of superflat, suggests that the animated shopping gaze reflects the ‘heightened experience of consumerism’ of a visual field dominated by walls and windows. As Li points out, monetized personalized creates a visual field in which our gaze is ‘databased and computerized:’ a visual field ‘in which our identities are nothing more than a list of products that the computer, or the website, decides we’d like to purchase.'”(Shafer, 6).

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  15. “The cinema of attractions model is primarily about positioning the spectator in relation to the apparatus of the film camera. The cute cat video offers a revised positioning of the spectator while maintaining the aesthetic characteristics of the cinema of attractions.” (15)

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  16. “The ‘giving away’ of distance in the favor of immediate embodiment is a conceptual idea that can be mapped visually, in this case, across the vectors of control that define the design of YouTube’s interface. The presence and appeal of the cute cat video within this interface opens a space for us to re-think superficiality and depthlesness, particularly when they are read as exemplars of the aesthetic of the contemporary.” (Shafer, 9)

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  17. “…early cinema and homemade productions ‘share a social formation constructed out of consumerism, leisure time, aesthetic norms, bourgeois family life, the utopianism of new technologies,, and corporate capitalism.’ This is to say: the scrutability of the cat video’s charms has both aesthetic and industrial functions.” (5)

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  18. “Transgressing on an intimacy is part of the thrill of the spectator position when you are watching cute cat videos. There are many possible interpretations of this moment, this caesura in the cats’ antics, but what is clear is that the cats’ look maps the very limited, almost foreclosed space between the cats and the camera.The location is intimate, the relationship is intimate, the space being marked between the camera and the cat is the space of relationship with explicit power relations that are being humorously and ironically identified through the voice over.” (14)

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  19. “This is to say: the scrutability of the cat video’s charms has both aesthetic and industrial functions. The short, observational, comical scenarios that exemplify the cat video require little capital investment (most cat videos appear to be shot on cell phone cameras) and only entail rudimentary technological and aesthetic skills, but they can command significant capital. The form has been propelled forward by the limited requirements for technology and skill needed to produce and exhibit a cat video but it has been cemented as a cultural trend by the tool that capitalizes on the popular circulation of the cute, easily digestible video shorts.”

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  20. “Other recent work on the cat video takes up the aesthetics of cat videos’ ubiquitous allure by explicitly situating it within scholarship on ‘the cute.’ D.E. Wittkower, who reads cuteness as the ‘dominant aesthetic category in digital culture,’ contrasts the allure of the cute with the dehumanizing graphical interfaces of the Internet. He suggests that our cultural obsession with the cute is an instinctive mitigation of the ‘foreign, cold, and uncaring’ digital environment.” (Shafer, 8/18)

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  21. “But, of course, the architecture of the site is neither “natural” nor “democratic.” Youtube’s architecture uses personalization as a way to control user attention and as a way to generate data that can be monetized: the cute cat video has helped to promote and refine this system.”

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  22. It’s interesting to note the prominence of hands in the action, in part because the short is about boxing. One of the short’s cutest (and, hence, most affectively alluring) elements is the cats’ cat-sized boxing gloves. They perform a vivid alienation by evoking verisimilitude while gesturing to the artifice of the scenario. They both mask the cats’ catness – look! the cats look like human boxers with gloves! – and emphasize their catness – look! the cats’ paws have been hidden! Prof. Welton’s hands are similarly polysemous: it looks like he has cats for hands but we know he has man hands; it looks like the cats are boxing but we know he is manipulating them with his invisible hands.

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  23. The smartphone cameras used by many amateur video produsers are built for quick, rudimentary video capture that does not allow for articulated depth-of-field. Their minimal editing suggests a cinema verité-like spontaneity and sincerity; and, their absorptive focus on the cat in action opens a space for spectators to locate their bodies in relation to the screen. (Shafer)

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