Caturday: Cats Get a Bum Rap

by 1389 on March 26, 2011

in 1389 (blog admin), Caturday, China

From the endlessly fascinating Television Tropes & Idioms wiki:

TV Tropes: “Cats Are Mean”

“If cats looked like frogs, we’d realize what nasty, cruel little bastards they are.”
Terry Pratchett, Lords And Ladies

Garfield kicking Odie off a table

Cats get a bad rap.

While cat and dog owners can cite a truckload of quirks on both ends of the spectrum, when both species are featured in fiction you are far more likely to find an outright cruel, nasty, and otherwise vicious cat character. Both sets of animals will have vices, but a dog is more likely to do them unintentionally. A cat enjoys causing trouble. Parts of this have to do with traditional traits that even cat lovers admire – independence and pride for some equals lack of love for the owners and aloofness for others. As a result, many writers who like cats, such as Terry Pratchett and Paul Gallico, play into the trope by presenting their pet as something of a Magnificent Bastard, expertly manipulating humans.

It certainly doesn’t help considering highly marketable, small creatures are typically the kind of things cats see as prey. Dogs aren’t exempt from this behavior in real life, but you’ll rarely see them trying to actively catch anything on their own terms if they’re not a hunting dog working for their master. Since mice (and birds) are often depicted as being intelligent, the express desire to eat them becomes a type of cannibalism and is therefore evil. Protagonist cats rarely eat mice (rats, maybe). Notably, the real threat that mice present, their ability to overpopulate, consume stores and carry dangerous parasites, and the original reason we bred cats in the first place, is seldom mentioned in fiction. Nor is the fact that a whole category of dogs, terriers, also kill small cute rodents.

Domestic dogs are rarely portrayed as evil unless the setting specifically only features dogs and antagonists are needed. A negative portrayal of dogs is usually light, treating them as simply dumb and servile (and fiercely territorial); the occasional evil tear-’em-to-pieces junkyard dog or Hellhound is an exception. When they are genuinely annoying, this characteristic is given to stereotypical small yappy breeds that reflect their owners. In real life it says more about a dog’s training.

Much of this no doubt descends from Medieval European folklore associating cats with witches and other forces of evil. (At the same pyres witches were burned, cats were burned too.) At the same time, there is a grain of truth to this. “A deadly game of cat and mouse” is often a very real situation; cats not taught to hunt properly by their mothers often appear to clumsily toy with their prey before killing it, and even veteran mousers will play with their quarry before killing and consuming them, in order to avoid being bitten, since the saying is correct that “even a cornered mouse will snap at a cat” (but only when the mouse is aware of the cat; meanwhile a cat that ambushes a mouse by surprise, will kill it instantly, which is why cats are experts at hunting by stealth and secrecy).

That said, it should come as no surprise that the Right Hand Cat is the Diabolical Mastermind‘s most popular pet of choice.

Contrast Everything’s Cuter With Kittens. (Though it can go hand-in-hand with it when Cute Is Evil.)

Compare Dogs Are Dumb and Killer Rabbit. Overlaps with Cats Are Superior, especially when Dumb Is Good. May also in some cases lead to Cats Are Snarkers.

Read the rest here; there’s a huge wealth of examples. Click the folder icons to expand each category.

True, there are a few exceptions such as Disney’s “The Aristocats” (see Caturday: Cartoon Movie Cats).

That said, on the whole, cats have gotten a bum rap for many centuries, not only in written fiction and other media, but also folklore, urban legends, and other word-of-mouth and person-to-person communications. The sad thing is that this negative image of cats can spread irrational fears, prompting political decisions to eliminate cats in certain jurisdictions. (If you have a strong stomach, see Olympics clean-up Chinese style: Inside Beijing’s shocking death camp for cats.)

More feline and other animal-related memes here:

TV Tropes: Animal Tropes.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Always On Watch March 27, 2011 at 8:36 am

Well, I love my three snarkers in this household. 🙂

2 eaglesoars March 28, 2011 at 6:09 pm

hey 1389, sorry to be OT but I would like your advice. “Black Lamb, Grey Falcon” and “Balkan Ghosts” were both recommended. I tried to start w/BLGF – twice – but I just drowned. I didn’t have the mental ‘scaffolding’. “Balkan Ghosts” did the trick and now I can go back to BLGF.

But I would like a book that actually covers the Balkan wars of the ’90s. Any recommendation?


eaglesoars (you’ve got my email)

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