Videogum

Internet Cat Videos and the Anxiety Dream Theory of Mass Entertainment

werttrew | February 18, 2011 - 4:53 pm

I had this professor in college who was a Marxist. A real Marxist! I didn’t know they still existed. He had this intense look and a wild, white beard that made him look like an Old Testament prophet. I’m pretty thoroughly non-Marxist, but he was still the best graduate professor I’ve ever had. I took three classes from him.

Anyway, he explained this theory about genre entertainment that is adapted from the ideas of Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, Jacques Lacan, and Fredric Jameson. It went something like this:

Most of us have anxieties in our daily lives that we don’t have an easy solution to. For example, stress or huge responsibilities. As a result, Freud argued, we will often have anxiety dreams—dreams which symbolically depict our abstract problems in a concrete form. So, the abstract problem of high stress in your life gets manifested concretely in a dream about your teeth shattering. Being naked in public in your dream suggests some insecurities in your social setting; falling from a great height suggests overwhelming decisions facing you; running in a maze you can’t escape suggests you have problems you don’t know how to resolve.

Now here’s the kicker. What if entertainment—mass entertainment, genre entertainment—functions for society the same way dreams do for the individuals? “Whoa!”—Keanu Reeves. Thus, if you take a look at what mass entertainment is popular in an era of culture, you will get a grasp on the culture’s irresolvable anxieties. So, the monster movies of the ‘60s suggest the anxieties of nuclear world with the Soviet bloc; the lavish, graceful Ginger Rogers/Fred Astaire musicals of the Great Depression era were symbolic resolutions from the anxiety of being trapped in poverty. My professor noted that sales of dystopian and utopian science-fiction rose when economic times were bad and receded when they were good.

I bring this up to talk about cat videos and the Internet. What deep culture anxieties does our obsession with cat videos suggest?

(Standing cat video via Ohhaveyouseenthis. Thanks for the cat burglar tip, Njoy, Brad O’Farrell, Amber.)