Cats: The Real Underdogs

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I don’t appreciate the question “Are you a dog or cat person?” I love them both and why society demands we choose between the two is beyond me.  There never seems to be any alternative propositions:  No one cares if you prefer goldfish to cats or hamsters to dogs.  Cats and Dogs have been pitted against each other and I believe this has been to the distinct disadvantage of our feline friends.

Cats. They started off on a good foot but something appears to have went wrong for them somewhere along the way (I am of course referring to domestic cats.  With the likes of Simba and Mufasa on their side, “big cats” are, on the whole, considered pretty likable).  The good foot I allude to dates back to Ancient Egypt. The Egyptians adored, revered…even worshiped the traditional house cat.  In fact, it is the Egyptians who are responsible for the domestication of the species.  Not only admired for their grace and poise, their ability to keep vermin at bay made the cat a popular figure in Egyptian culture, evidence of which can still be found today.

Since then, cats have remained an ideal choice of pet and yet, paradoxically, there exists an overall negative opinion of them.  This can range from their supposed indifference and snootiness to being downright evil.  The latter seems to have evolved from the Middle Ages when cats became associated with witches, illustrating just what hanging out with the wrong crowd can do for your reputation.  Was it their fault witches took a shining to them?  If anything, i’m thinking that if witches, callous and cruel by stereotype,  even liked them, then there must be something profoundly endearing about the creatures. Unfortunately, those Medieval folk didn’t share my rationale and the result of the affiliation was CATastrophic.  Cats were murdered en masse, the effect of which ironically extended beyond the species to the perpetrators:  It is thought that had this intolerance not existed, local rodent populations could have been kept down, lessening the spread of the plague epidemic.

Ridiculous superstitions have emerged throughout the centuries, seemingly as a result of this unfortunate association, further entrenching the negative perception of cats.  Let’s take a moment to review a few of these:

  • If a black cat crosses your path, evil and bad luck will fall upon you.
  • Cats suck the life out of newborn babies.
  • Coming across a cat at midnight is seeing Satan himself.
  • If you wake up in the morning and see cats playing, the whole day will be wasted.
  • If a cat leaves its house while a person in the same house is sick and cannot be coaxed   back inside, that person will die.
  • A cat sleeping with all four paws tucked under them means bad weather is coming.

While any (reasonable) individual would deem these beliefs absurd, the sentiment behind them – that cats are in someway evil or malicious – still lingers.  If you consider cats in pop culture, you’ll find the majority of them are, quite frankly, obnoxious, while their common counterparts (domestic dogs) are conveyed as trustworthy, loyal companions.  Take Disney’s  Lady and the Tramp and Cinderella.  The only cats to make an appearance in the former are Si and Am, two troublesome siamese cats whose only purpose in the film is to sabotage Lady, the lovable cocker spaniel.  The latter – Cinderella – firmly establishes the existing juxtaposition between cats and dogs: Bruno the dog represents Cinderella’s doting ally while Lucifer provides the sidekick to the villainous Lady Tremaine.  *Note that the cat is actually named after Satan.

Other popular examples might include Tom and Sylvester (the antagonists to Jerry and Tweety respectively), whose characteristics are ostensibly the same.  The two are depicted as ruthless miscreants, ceaselessly in pursuit of their prey.  They, importantly, never win and are always outwitted by their supposed inferiors, painting a picture of cats as, not only cruel, but unintelligent. 

Even when their characters aren’t in some way “bad”, many possess negative traits.  Sassy from Homeward Bound is shallow and conceited, while her partners in crime, Shadow and Chance (both dogs), are playful and loving; Top Cat, although the protagonist, is a no good gangster; and the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland is just an overall pain in the ass. There are of course exceptions, but I would argue that the image one conjures up as a result of these cultural depictions, is that of a villainous, mischievous cat either being stroked by an evil genius or at least wreaking havoc in a small town house.

Indirectly related to the issue of cat stereotyping, is that of the stereotypes surrounding people who like or own cats – namely women.  For some reason, we’re either crazy, single, or in some way slightly unhinged. I realise, that in writing this I will automatically be conceived as a “crazy cat lady”.  I do myself own two cats.  Having grown up with cats my entire life, I am obviously biased, but this bias is based on actual experience as opposed to myths and superstition.  I can in no way identify with the notion that cats are sly, crafty or vicious.  They might not be as jolly as their tail-wagging rivals, but they possess other attributes which are equally favourable such as intelligence, dignity and resilience.  And to those who would say they are indifferent and unaffectionate, I refute that profusely.  My cats cry when left alone, crawl beside me when there’s an opening, and, on occasion, follow me around just for company.  They are no less loving or loyal than dogs and their hearts always seem to be in the right place: for example in the past month, my cat Polka has brought to my doorstep four shrews and at least five birds; I haven’t the heart to tell her that I have absolutely no use for them.

The objective of this narrative was not to take away from dogs, but rather to “give to” cats.  And yes, while they are slowly becoming internet sensations, I believe there is still a sense of reluctance on the part of a lot people to accept them as caring pets. The following video is not intended to show the dog up – but more to highlight the actions of this one particularly brave cat.

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Reality TV: Sadism and Shame

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I read an interesting article this morning about the downfall of television. You can imagine the gist: Modern television – horrid. Keeping Up With the Kardashians – horrid. My inner snob shares similar views: “TV. Chewing gum for the eyes. Why, i’d much rather read a book.” 

The intellect in me – if one such exists – fantasizes about a me who consumes books on a daily basis and abhors television.  And while I can say that Keeping Up With the Kardashians is horrid (in my opinion), this admission doesn’t stop me from indulging in similar monstrosities such as Made in Chelsea and The X Factor.  I’m almost ashamed to admit that I’m actually looking forward to The X Factor starting this weekend, despite the fact that every year I watch it I want to tear my face off.  Two things here: 1. Shame 2. Masochism.

The former is defined as “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour.”  Watching the X Factor, therefore, almost equates to an act of wrong doing.  Let’s consider this further.  For instance, I was catching up on #madeinchelsea yesterday and I literally said to my sister “I’m watching Made in Chelsea even though it’s shit”.  Note: It is always essential to make this disclaimer when watching reality TV or else it might be known to others that you actually enjoy it.  Let’s get to the root of this so-called shame.  It would appear that we think we’re better than reality TV – or at least some of us do (myself included).  I think I am, or at least should be, above the frivolity of talentless fame junkies seeking five minutes of fame.  I should be watching the news or the latest documentary on World War I. That’s that little snob in me. In reality, I have the propensity to like crap TV.  Does that make me an idiot?

Worse still, does that make me a bad person? Does watching these inane examples of television reveal something darker about ourselves? If anyone watched BBC’s Extras, you’ll recall Gervais gave a wonderful dialogue on the evils of fame and reality TV in the Christmas finale.  He compared the concept of Big Brother, X Factor and the like to the Victorian Freak Show, where viewers took pleasure in watching the participants publicly humiliate themselves.  Let’s face it, everyone’s favourite part of the X Factor is watching those without the “X Factor” and the Kardashians wouldn’t be worth keeping up with if it wasn’t for their tears and tantrums.

Inherently tied up in these themes is the concept of judgement.  Whether talent based or following the lives of individuals, we’re given an insight into real people’s lives.  Yes, “some scenes have been created for your entertainment”, but there is an overall guise of reality that previous television never offered us.  Given that luxury, we can get to know people and, most importantly, judge them.  “How could he do that?”, “That bitch”, “They sound like a dead cat” etc etc. Our position of unseen onlooker allows us to jump on our high horses and condemn the behaviour of others as “bad” or “wrong” while proclaiming that we  “would never do that”. 

This idea of judgement is also interesting from another perspective. We judge others who watch these shows, assuming their intellect to be lesser and their standards lower.  A dangerous, prejudiced assumption which leaves us feeling “ashamed” to be watching these shows in the first place.  It seems we’re all too eager to judge from either perspective.

As far as the future is concerned, it is unlikely that reality TV will disappear anytime soon.  Its ever increasing amount only reflects the ever increasing demand for it. Whether rightly or wrongly, this appears to be what society wants from their late night viewing.  According to the aforementioned, this can be attributed to the following:

  1. We’re closet sadists who get a kick out of watching people make idiots of themselves.
  2. We are, in fact, the idiots.
  3. We enjoy judging others as it makes us feel slightly better about ourselves.

That seems awfully condemning, doesn’t it? You’ll be glad to hear, I’m going to offer you a much more appealing alternative: it’s only TV.