There are a lot of alarming photographs in Will Zweigart’s Gmail inbox.
“I got a couple of New Year’s Eve photos that were way off the charts. They’d probably give PETA a heart attack,” he recalled. “Literally just like, huge lines of coke and the cats near them with bottles of champagne in the background. And, of course, the requisite 20- and 50-dollar bills.”
It only makes sense that people would send Zweigart that kind of photographic material. After all, he’s the creator of Ca$hcats.biz, the Internet’s one-stop shop for pictures of cats positioned near obscene displays of wealth. But the guy has standards: he passed on that New Year’s Eve cocaine party shot.
“I wanna be considerate of the other cats out there and not encourage bad behavior among the owners,” the 33-year old Brooklynite said in the accent of his native North Carolina. “I didn’t wanna call into question whether that was actually good for the cat’s welfare or not.”
That’s probably the only time you’ll hear the word “welfare” ever mentioned in relation to Ca$hcats. Even amid the Internet’s ever-growing cat glut, it stands out as something remarkable and, at times, totally insane. Yet the concept is simple: it’s a Tumblr featuring user-submitted pictures of cats near money, guns, diamonds, and the like. The layout is clean and free of ads. The cats are calm and oblivious.
A search through the site’s randomizer function immediately yields jarring images: a spotty American shorthair atop a tower of what appears to be more than $100,000; a placid orange tabby in a blanket of at least $5,000; a photoset of black cats with handguns, dollars, euros, and flasks, along with the Lupe Fiasco-homaging caption, “all black everything.”
The emotions these images induce are hard to describe, but they’ve taken root in a legion of devotees. Since its launch in January of 2011, Ca$hcats has accumulated more than 55,000 Tumblr followers and nearly 5,000 Facebook fans. Hundreds of submissions have come in from around the planet. And Zweigart rarely asks questions about where the cash comes from.
“There’s just something so profoundly surreal about the concept,” said Danielle Strle, Tumblr’s director of product and partnerships — and a frequent submitter to the site. “How would a cat go about accumulating all this cash? What would these cats be spending cash on if spending cash was something cats did?”
Aside from raising unanswerable/adorable questions such as those, Ca$hcats also stands as a refreshing break from the web’s usual parade of cats sitting in boxes, playing with bottlecaps, and so on. Indeed, Zweigart says the site began as a kind of corrective — an exploration of how cats are rarely portrayed in a negative light online.
“Every couple of days, my parents still send me pictures of our cats, who just lie around all day with this smug sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. It just kinda reinforces that they’ve always believed they were superior to us or have this ruling-class attitude,” he said. “I thought that was an interesting contrast between what you see on the Internet and the fact that cats really own the Internet from a comedy standpoint.”
Whatever the message, the site inspires its submitters to shift their usual monetary priorities.
For example, Ditmas Park shoe designer Divya Anantharaman sent in a shot of her three-year-old feline, Fugazi (as well as $500, two rifles, fox pelts, booze, Four Loko, and a Blackberry) right after landing a well-paying job.
“I was like, ‘Instead of depositing this check, I’m gonna go and cash out part of it.’ I wanted to use a lot of the money on Ca$hcats,” she recalled.
She had cinematic inspiration: “I feel like it’s kind of like that scene in Enter the Void, when they’re all on the couch and like, ‘What, me?’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah, it’s me. I’m here.’ And they’re just, like, tripping balls and it’s just not gonna end,” she said. “It’s a really long trip. ‘This is what my life has become now.’”
[Side note: when I admitted to having no idea what Enter the Void was, Anantharaman admonished me thusly: “You have to have seen that movie if you work for VICE!” It’s apparently a 2009 Gaspar Noe movie about a Tokyo drug dealer.]
Similarly, Strle thinks about her money differently nowadays. She once took a photo of her cat, Wallace, “with a 100 trillion dollar bill from Zimbabwe that I ordered off eBay especially for the occasion,” she says. “Now, every time I have any significant amount of cash laying around, me and Wallace do a little photo shoot.”
Ca$hcats.biz’s star is still rising. Zweigart — a social media consultant by day — is scheduling an exhibition of Ca$hcats photos for a New York gallery this autumn. In the meantime, he’s just trying to feed the demand and manage the supply.
“Someone emailed me last week and said, ’I’ve got $17,000 in cash. What should I do?’” he said. “I gave him photography tips. Like, ’Don’t let the cat be a blur.’”