This year is bad. The internet is bad. Twitter might be worst of all. And yet — call it magic, call it divine mystery — these concentric circles of fiery refuse occasionally produce something good.
The original GIF, of a cat of distinctly blobby constitution hitting its little u-shaped limbs on a surface, was accompanied by the simple caption, “smack smack.”
The artist told Select All it was just another image of their cat character, Rogu, and they “never really expected anything of it.” (@StrayRogue later clarified on Twitter that Rogu and Bongo Cat are two separate beings but could be “really really really really really really really really distant cousins.”)
In response to the original tweet, Twitter user @DitzyFlama added a stock image of bongos to the initial GIF and set it to a “Super Mario World” tune.
@DitzyFlama uploaded an extended version to YouTube on Sept. 3. This seems to be the catalyst for “bongo cat” as a concept to take off, if we’re going by Google Trends:
The internet was collectively moved. Since that first bongo GIF, more and more online denizens have been animating Bongo Cat tapping out beats to increasingly sillier soundtracks.
It turns out Bongo Cat and his nubby paws are proficient in percussing everything from “Africa” to the Windows 95 startup music to “Hall of the Mountain King,” the last of which asks in its YouTube description, “Bongo cat with classical music, what could be better?”
Indeed. He has even dabbled with ASMR.
And it is nice. Each and every unlikely iteration, tumbling across feeds like a digital time traveler from 2011, is somehow more pure and reassuring than the last. Its simple, uneven lines are comfortingly uncomplicated. Its erratic paw-slapping is sublimely stupefacient.
The best part is, as a meme, it requires no mental gymnastics to understand and offers scant room for intellectual posturing. Compared to Distracted Boyfriend or “Is This a Butterfly?” which can turn people you consider friends into people who must constantly remind you they’ve read Nietzsche, Bongo Cat doesn’t make you feel clever. It’s copybook in its ability to just make you feel good.
In this way, Bongo Cat feels like a spiritual cousin to internet felines past — Nyan Cat, Keyboard Cat — reminding people here in 2018 of simpler times.
“It’s a nice reprieve from timelines that can be full of bad news lately,” Amanda Brennan, Tumblr’s senior content insights manager and “meme librarian,” wrote in an email. (Tumblr and HuffPost share a parent company, Oath.)
“Cat memes are pretty evergreen and Bongo Cat is the type of meme that could have gone viral any time,” she said. “However, it’s been a while since there’s been an animated cat spreading with the virality that Bongo Cat is seeing — I see it as more of the next wave of these cat-focused memes. Perhaps if it came on the heels of an older meme, it wouldn’t have taken off like it did.”
“It kind of reminds me of when Tumblr was obsessed with the ‘When Mama Isn’t Home’ video series and started riffing off of it by drawing the situation in the video (one sunglassed person with a trombone, one sunglassed person slamming an oven) with characters from different fandoms,” Brennan said. “There’s tons of ways to extrapolate on that video gag, same with Bongo Cat.”
Because this is the internet, there’s a chance that someone out there will corrupt sweet, sweet Bongo Cat for nefarious purposes, but for right now, it seems to be an unadulterated source for good — a precious commodity on a platform that often plays host to humanity’s darkest impulses.
But it can also surface a nice chubby kitty who — for now — only wants to bring you some sweet tunes. Play on, Bongo Cat.