MINNEAPOLIS - Warning: This is a story about online cat videos. If you're among the seemingly tiny minority of the general population not interested in watching a 1-minute clip of a cat in a T-shirt pounding on a keyboard, then move along.
For everyone else, a new measure of respectability is looming for an Internet pleasure that is both massively popular and, for some people, a bit embarrassing. The Walker Art Center, a well-regarded museum of modern art in Minneapolis, on Thursday is presenting its first "Internet Cat Video Film Festival" to showcase the best in filmed feline hijinks.
With about 70 videos over 60 minutes, the Walker is mounting a social experiment as much as a film festival. At issue is whether cat video lovers used to gorging on the clips in the privacy of their homes will do so in public — an online community of fellow aficionados interacting face to face for the first time.
"It is a cultural phenomenon that raises some interesting questions," said Katie Hill, the Walker program associate who first suggested the festival.
But Hill, a self-described "art historian and cat lady," was quick to add: "I'm not a behavioral psychologist, I'm not a sociologist. I just think they're funny and cute, and I think a lot of other people do too."
The numbers bear it out. Some of the classics of the form have racked up tens of millions of YouTube page views. The aforementioned "Keyboard Cat" posted 26.3 million page views since it was posted in 2007. A 30-second clip titled "Very Angry Cat" — can you guess the plot? — has 78.5 million page views since 2006.
"Some you just watch over and over and over again," said Angie Bailey, a cat blogger and owner from Chisago City, Minn., covering the film festival for the website Catster.com. "When you want to laugh and feel good it's sort of an escape from what happens in the real world."
Walker programmers got about 10,000 submissions for the festival after initially expecting several hundred. They whittled that down to the 70 videos to be shown on an outdoor screen on the museum's grounds.
Afterward, festivalgoers will be able to vote online for a "Best in Show" award. In addition, the Walker programmers picked a "Golden Kitty Award" to be bestowed at the end of the night.
"The Walker has advised, if you bring your cat put it on a leash," said Josh Feist, a Minneapolis arts administrator who planned to take his cat, Pickles, to the show. "It could be potentially crazy if there are hundreds of people who bring their cats. It will be interesting to see what develops."
Get the video cameras ready.