Talking Cat in Sink was uploaded to Youtube on July 22nd, 2007 by user catzmeow8. Other videos on her channel are cat-centric, notable exceptions being a video titled Cool pool. We can’t wait til next tr to enjoy it [sic] and the more experimental MOV01458, a stark video featuring two species of tropical birds. None of catzmeow8’s subsequent videos, however, reached the intense popularity of Talking Cat in Sink, with Buddy being Buddy, the second most viewed video, reaching an impressive 15,206 views, and the similarly titled Cat in Sink, featuring an evidently less popular cat named Carmen, reaching a respectable 4,222.
I saw Talking Cat in Sink for the first time two years ago, and didn’t think much of it at the time. For reasons I do not fully comprehend but wish to explore here briefly, I keep coming back to this video. I imagine my story is similar to others who have found Talking Cat in Sink, and I refuse to believe that over nine million individuals (roughly 0.9% of the world’s population) have watched this video one time each. Despite the near pandemic spread of popular memes around the internet, this number must be attributable to repeat viewings. Personally, I have probably returned to this video at least twice a year since first seeing it. For the sake of argument, let’s say I’ve seen in eight times in total. The question I ask myself each time is, why? Why do I keep coming back to this video? What about it resonates with me? Why do I revisit this video more often than I return to the gravestones of relatives I cherish far more?
I am a former cat owner (R.I.P. Sheba ca. 1989-2005) and have lived with a number of cat owners, so I am reasonably acquainted with typical cat behaviour. Based on this experience I can tell you that the behaviour of “Buddy” as featured in this video is typical. Buddy is lying down in a sink and its owner asks it a number of questions, many of which imply that it is overweight and goes out of its way to inconvenience others. At first, Buddy seems eager to engage with the disembodied interlocutor and provides enthusiastic responses to her questions. Buddy’s optimism, however, is quickly dampened as this video undergoes shift in tone.
I think what may continuously draw me back to Talking Cat in Sink is precisely the way the dark undertone creeps in, so subtly at first that it is almost undetectable which quickly builds to a suffocating crescendo. About mid-way through, the voice behind the camera begins to insist Buddy acknowledge Debbie, who we are to presume the video is being made for or who will at least be party to re-watching it later. As a viewer, I imagine the owner getting together with Debbie later and saying “I made a video for you” or sending the video in an email to Debbie with an attached video file titled “Buddy says hi.mov”. Maybe this video was uploaded to Youtube for the sole purpose of Debbie viewing it, with Youtube’s mysterious algorithms along with the meme natural selection processes taking care of the next nine million three hundred thousand or so viewers.
Within the action of the video itself, however, Buddy seems more reluctant to acknowledge Debbie as evident when responses become increasingly more obstinate in tone with longer pauses between. The voice behind the camera continues to demand an acknowledgement of Debbie, an individual whom none of we the viewers know if Buddy has even met. Perhaps Buddy has met Debbie before and didn’t care for her, or perhaps there is an unspoken incident that occurred between Debbie and Buddy, colouring their relationship. Regardless of their shared or unshared circumstances, this information is unattainable to the viewer. All we are left with is Buddy’s dwindling interest in the voice’s demand for greetings for Debbie, an increasing refusal to acknowledge the camera, and a grudging compliance underwritten with the hope that, maybe this time, the voice will finally be satisfied with this greeting for Debbie. This hope is quickly faded by a horrible realization in Buddy that no quantity or quality of greetings with satiate the voice’s demands.
It has been argued that confessions made under the duress of torture are invalid as the subject under the strain of such interrogation will confess to anything if he or she thinks it will bring an end to the torture itself. But what if the interrogator demands a second confession, a third? What if the demands for confessions never end and the process of confessing itself becomes the torture? The viewer begins to empathize with Buddy: why does she keep demanding Buddy say “hi” to Debbie? Weren’t the last two good enough? Does she actually expect that cat to say “Hello, Debbie!”? Is she delusional? When will this madness end? Thankfully, the viewer need only check the time remaining in the video to see that it has almost reached its end at 1:54. For the viewer, it is over. For Buddy, perhaps this is the new reality.