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Vice

Juliette Eisner, co-director of Lil Bub & Friendz

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Vice

When Juliette Eisner, a communications associate at Vice, heard about the Internet Cat Video Film Festival taking place at the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota last year, she immediately knew she wanted to cover it. Her piece grew from a short film into the documentary Lil Bub and Friendz, which premieres today at the Tribeca Film Festival (you can also watch the film yourself after it premieres; more information on that here). Eisner co-directed the doc with Vice's senior producer, Andy Capper, and got to spend lots of time with Bub—one of the most popular cats on the Internet—in the process. Thankfully, Bub's fame doesn't seem to have gone to her head. "She’s not a diva at all," Eisner says. "She’s the best-behaved celebrity I’ve ever met." We spoke with Eisner about meeting Bub, how she found her experts, and why she thinks the internet loves cats.

mental_floss: I’m curious about the development process. I know Vice does a lot of this kind of thing, but how did this documentary in particular come about?

Juliette Eisner: Vice covers a lot of culture and other types of stories. We do a lot of stuff about the internet and today's pop culture icons, and this just seemed pretty interesting to us, right off the bat. I definitely think that these celebrity cats are our new pop culture icons—replacing the Hello Kittys and the Garfields of the world.

I heard about the internet cat video festival, which was last summer at the Walker Arts Center. I was really taken aback when I first read about it, because the Walker Arts Center is such an awesome, renowned establishment, and I thought it was really funny that they were going to do a whole festival [about] internet cat videos. I pitched the idea to the team, and Andy Capper, who’s the senior producer of Vice [and co-director of this documentary], loved it. And we just picked up and went to this weird, weird cat video festival. I had reached out to [Bub and her owner, Mike Bridavsky] when I found out that we were going to go, and I invited them to be our cat celebrity friends. They came, and from the moment that we met Bub, we knew that she was super special and that her story was really, really interesting. So we decided to continue filming.

I think a lot of that was also because the festival itself was incredibly packed. It was like 10,000 people who had traveled from all over to see these cat videos being played for an hour on a little screen. So we realized that we’d tapped into something bigger than just an internet phase. It definitely is something that’s relevant, today, on the internet, in the internet culture.

mental_floss: Everyone who hasn't had a chance to meet Bub is probably wondering—what’s she like?

JE: Oh, my God. In the film, when I meet her—that’s totally the first time I actually meet her, I’m not pretending or anything—it literally is like a punch in the stomach. You’re like, “Am I looking at a cartoon? Is this an alien? I’m not sure.” She really does have that effect on people. She definitely is a weird-looking creature; she’s not a normal-looking cat. But on top of being just interesting-looking, she has this very calm demeanor to her—Mike is always like, “She’s an other-worldly cat; she’s kind of the Buddha of all cats.” But it’s true. 

Tribeca Film Festival

mental_floss: You traveled all over the place to make this documentary. How long did it take?

JE: It started at the end of August, for the festival, and then we went to Bloomington, which is where Mike and Bub live, to visit her in her hometown. And then she also came to New York for some press event that she was doing and we filmed her there. And then in the middle, we spent our time getting to know more about this internet phenomenon. We were talking to the I Can Haz Cheezburger CEOs of the world, and all these people who study and are very knowing about how social [and] internet trends have changed. It was maybe a five-month filming process, but it was all kind of side-project-y style, late night shoots on the side, and then somehow it became this really awesome feature-length film.

mental_floss: You talked to a lot of people; how did you find them? 

JE: The majority of the pet owners we spoke to were from Minneapolis who were at the festival, and then the other internet people—Ben Lashes [who manages Internet meme celebrities], he’s based out of LA, and Grumpy Cat lives in Arizona—we just started realizing what a big community it was, and reached out to these people [including a professor]. And everyone was really on board to talk to us. It was not that hard to find [people], which is also interesting. This is something that people do spend a lot of time researching and looking into.

mental_floss: Lil Bub & Friendz is premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival. Was the plan always to submit it to a festival?

JE: Not at all. Our original plan was to do a short, fun piece for Vice about the [cat video] festival. But I think that, at the festival, we realized that not only could we make a fun story about Bub, but [that we could look at] how the internet has changed the way that you can have a career. People can be famous by putting their image online. And you can make money from merchandising yourself by just being a famous character that people know about. And it was really interesting to us.

mental_floss: Why do you think people on the internet are so crazy about cats? Do you have any insight into that now, having made this film?

JE: I’ve been thinking a lot about this—why certain viral videos do better than others. I think that cats definitely cater to the kind of people who are looking for something that’s going to make them smile or laugh, like cute animals, to begin with. But I also think that cats, specifically, as opposed to other animals—they are probably the more mysterious house pet. That’s kind of the stigma around cats: that they do their own thing, they’re the independent ones, they don’t care, and dogs are the opposite. I think people like to see images of cats doing weird things because it’s a way to see into the mystery of the creature, and get to know them a little bit better or see them doing things you wouldn’t normally see them do. But it still kind of is this big question mark.

In the doc, Amy Kellner, who created the Cute Show for Vice, who now works for the New York Times, said that for her, it was all about feeling better. These cats make her feel better about her day. She’ll put [a kittycam] on her screen while she’s working because it calms her. Bub gets fanmail daily, and a large majority of it is like, “I’m going through such a hard time, but Bub’s picture makes me happy.” People really look to these pictures and animals to find comfort.

mental_floss: In the process of making this, did you learn anything that really surprised you? 

JE: I was super surprised going to the event; that was the big shocking moment for me for sure, realizing how big of a thing this cat phenomenon is. And then realizing that it’s become something that you can really have a career from. Ben Lashes was also a really funny character for me, because he’s essentially a manager of a band, but his band is a famous internet celebrity meme. He does the same things that any band manager would. And the fact that there are people like that out there—I don’t think most people realize or understand that. That’s his job and he is doing a really good job at it.

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Animals
14 Fascinating Facts About Foxes
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istock

Foxes live on every continent except Antarctica and thrive in cities, towns, and rural settings. But despite being all around us, they’re a bit of a mystery. Here’s more about this elusive animal.

1. Foxes Are Solitary.

Foxes are part of the Canidae family, which means they’re related to wolves, jackals, and dogs. They’re medium-sized, between 7 and 15 pounds, with pointy faces, lithe frames, and bushy tails. But unlike their relatives, foxes are not pack animals. When raising their young, they live in small families—called a “leash of foxes” or a “skulk of foxes”—in underground burrows. Otherwise, they hunt and sleep alone.

2. Foxes Have A Lot In Common With Cats.

Like the cat, the fox is most active after the sun goes down. In fact, it has vertically oriented pupils that allow it to see in dim light. It even hunts in a similar manner to a cat, by stalking and pouncing on its prey.

And that’s just the beginning of the similarities. Like the cat, the fox has sensitive whiskers and spines on its tongue. It walks on its toes, which accounts for its elegant, cat-like tread. And—get this—many foxes have retractable claws that allow them to climb rooftops or trees. Some foxes even sleep in trees—just like cats.

3. The Red Fox Is The Most Common Fox.

The red fox has the widest geographical range of any animal in the order Carnivora. While its natural habitat is a mixed landscape of scrub and woodland, its flexible diet allows it to adapt to many environments. As a result, its range is the entire Northern Hemisphere, from the Arctic Circle to North Africa to Central America to the Asiatic steppes. It’s also in Australia, where it’s considered an invasive species.

4. Foxes Use The Earth’s Magnetic Field.

Like a guided missile, the fox harnesses the earth’s magnetic field to hunt. Other animals, like birds, sharks, and turtles, have this “magnetic sense,” but the fox is the first one we’ve discovered that uses it to catch prey.

According to New Scientist, the fox can see the earth’s magnetic field as a “ring of shadow” on its eyes that darkens as it heads towards magnetic north. When the shadow and the sound the prey is making line up, it’s time to pounce. Here’s the fox in action:

5. Foxes Are Good Parents.

Foxes reproduce once a year. Litters range from one to 11 pups (the average is six), which are born blind and don’t open their eyes until nine days after birth. During that time, they stay with the vixen (female) in the den while the dog (male) brings them food. They live with their parents until they're seven months old. The vixen protects her pups with surprising loyalty. Recently, a fox pup was caught in a trap in England for two weeks, but survived because its mother brought it food every day.

6. The Smallest Fox Weighs Under 3 Pounds.

Roughly the size of a kitten, the fennec fox has elongated ears and a creamy coat. It lives in the Sahara Desert, where it sleeps during the day to protect it from the searing heat. Its ears not only allow it to hear prey, they also radiate body heat, which keeps the fox cool. Its paws are covered with fur so that the fox can walk on hot sand, like it’s wearing snowshoes.

7. Foxes Are Playful.

Foxes are known to be friendly and curious. They play among themselves as well as with other animals like cats and dogs. They love balls, which they frequently steal from golf courses.

Although foxes are wild animals, their relationship with humans goes way back. In 2011, researchers opened a grave in a 16,500-year-old cemetery in Jordan to find the remains of a man and his pet fox. This was 4000 years before the first-known human and dog were buried together.

8. You Can Buy A Pet Fox.

In the 1960s, a Soviet geneticist named Dmitry Belyaev bred thousands of foxes before achieving a domesticated fox. Unlike a tame fox, which has learned to tolerate humans, a domesticated fox is docile toward people from birth. Today, you can buy a pet fox for $9000, according to Fast Company. They’re reportedly curious and sweet-tempered, although inclined to dig in your furniture.

9. Arctic Foxes Don’t Shiver Until –70 degrees Celsius.

The arctic fox, which lives in the northernmost areas of the hemisphere, can handle cold better than most animals on earth. It doesn’t even get cold until –70 degrees Celsius. Its white coat also camouflages it against predators. As the seasons change, the coat changes too, turning brown or gray so the fox can blend in with the rocks and dirt of the tundra.

10. Fox Hunting Continues To Be Controversial.

Perhaps because of the fox’s ability to decimate a chicken coop, in the 16th century, fox hunting became a popular activity in Britain. In the 19th century, the upper classes turned fox hunting into a formalized sport where a pack of hounds and men on horseback chase a fox until it is killed. Today, whether to ban fox hunting continues to be a controversial subject in the UK. Currently, fox hunting with dogs is not allowed.

11. The Fox Appears Throughout Folklore.

Examples include: the nine-tail fox from various Asian cultures; the Reynard tales from medieval Europe; the sly trickster fox from Native American lore; and Aesop’s “The Fox and the Crow.” The Finnish believed a fox made the Northern Lights by running in the snow so that its tail swept sparks into the sky. From this, we get the phrase “fox fires.”

12. Bat-eared Foxes Listen For Insects.

The bat-eared fox is aptly named, not just because of its 5-inch ears, but because of what it uses those ears for—like the bat, it listens for insects. On a typical night, the fox walks along the African Savannah, listening, until it hears the scuttle of prey. Although the fox eats a variety of insects and lizards, most of its diet is made up of termites. In fact, the bat-eared fox often makes its home in termite mounds, which it usually cleans out of inhabitants before moving in.

13. Darwin Discovered A Fox Species.

During his voyage on the Beagle, Charles Darwin collected a fox that today is unimaginatively called Darwin’s Fox. This small gray fox is critically endangered and lives in just two spots in the world: One population is on Island of Chiloé in Chile, and the second is in a Chilean national park. The fox’s greatest threats are unleashed domestic dogs that carry diseases like rabies.

14. Foxes Sound Like This.

Foxes make 40 different sounds, some of which you can listen to here. The most startling is the scream:

Pleasant dreams!

All images courtesy of iStock unless otherwise stated.

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Love Scratching Furniture?
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Allergy suffering aside, cat ownership has proven health benefits. A feline friend can aid in the grieving process, reduce anxiety, and offer companionship.

The con in the cat column? They have no reservations about turning your furniture into shredded pleather. No matter how expensive your living room set, these furry troublemakers will treat it with the respect accorded to a college futon. Do cats do this out of some kind of spite? Are they conspiring with Raymour & Flanigan to get you to keep updating home decor?

Neither. According to cat behaviorists, cats gravitate toward scratching furniture mostly because that love seat is in a really conspicuous area [PDF]. As a result, cats want to send a message to any other animal that may happen by: namely, that this plush seating belongs to the cat who marked it. Scratching provides both visual evidence (claw marks) as well as a scent marker. Cat paws have scent glands that can leave smells that are detectable to other cats and animals.

But it’s not just territorial: Cats also scratch to remove sloughed-off nail tips, allowing fresh nail growth to occur. And they can work out their knotted back muscles—cramped from sleeping 16 hours a day, no doubt—by kneading the soft foam of a sectional.

If you want to dissuade your cat from such behavior, purchasing a scratching post is a good start. Make sure it’s non-carpeted—their nails can get caught on the fibers—and tall enough to allow for a good stretch. Most importantly, put it near furniture so cats can mark their hangout in high-traffic areas. A good post might be a little more expensive, but will likely result in fewer trips to Ethan Allen.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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