Will Braden's, Henri 2, Paw de Deux (2012), last's year's winner at the Walker Arts Center's Cat Video Film Festival, mixes a cat’s self-project aura of importance with the pop cache of Internet cat video, resulting in an extremely humorous video about an black francophone Internet cat named Henri, a.k.a. the Chat Noir, who experiences undying existential ennui.
Henri 2 is now one of several episodes in the Chat Noir series, all of which play on similar themes (his boredom, loneliness, and alienation in the face of everything from birds, fellow felines, to cheeseburgers). Henri 2 has become one of the most “liked” and “watched” videos on YouTube, because I cannot theorize the entire phenomenon of Internet cat videos here, I want to use this video to raise a question for further discussion.
Braden’s use of subtitles (common to Internet cat memes), voice-overs, black-and-white photography, sentimentalized piano, and existential motifs together allude to Europe in the postwar era, and auteur cinema in particular (Fellini, Antonioni, Godard). While it is comic to consider Henri as an auteur (a theme he capitalizes on in later episodes), is it not also a bit disturbing that today it is not an acute existential angst, but rather, boredom and ennui––in the face of ongoing crisis, disaster, catastrophe, and environmental destruction––that colors our art and cultural aesthetics? Does the video’s success ride on a longing and nostalgia for a time when people experienced trauma and crisis simply, and even, dare I says, elegantly? In other words: authenticity, black as it was, is no longer an option in today’s remix culture of hybrid hyperspeed.
Today the once radical and political jump cuts of the new wave and the political aesthetic they introduced saturates everything from Internet banner ads to public spaces. The more eyeballs, hits, clicks, and likes, the more dollars. Surely this is a tragedy of our times, somehow captured, and diffused in the Henri episodes (or the facts that subsequent episodes begin with embedded advertisements, like “Produced in Association with Friskies” cat food). Granted artists need to eat, is it also not also the “most terrifying news,” of our times, as Deleuze put it in 1991, that “businesses [now] have souls”?