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A friend who noticed my column bio has asked why, curiously, I haven’t written anything on cats. I said I’d need a great excuse, otherwise I’d just be babbling on about cats over 12,000 words and my editor would send me off to some crazy cat-ladies’ asylum.
I think now I’ve found the excuse. (Hoo-ray!!)
Unless you’ve been living without Net access, you’d realize that cats have roamed and reigned in the media lately. They appear in texts, pictures, videos, animations and tweets that in this digital age get distributed virally in seconds.
Whether or not you are a feline fan you probably have stumbled upon YouTube videos of Maru, the Scottish Fold cat in Japan obsessed with getting in and out of boxes or bags smaller than his chubby self, and visibly, on his cute round face, relishing the hugging sensation of the object of the moment.
A few years ago a grey cat named Sockington started tweeting, and Twitter has never been the same. Calling himself Grey Diablo while naming his followers “Socks’ Army”, he tweets just as a cat would carry on in life, with so much glee and abandon, concerning himself only with the fun matters of pawing freshly-laundered curtains, battling coffee table’s legs, shredding mouse toys, or bossing around his poor owner, endearingly dubbed “Fatty”, for tasty tuna treats.
Yet he sounds so real, is funny as hell, and gives a heartfelt shout-out when told that your cat is sick or dies, that almost 1.5 million people dutifully follow him. There is merchandise for sale, the proceeds of which are said to go to animal shelters — something that Maru’s owner seems to have picked up on now.
The love for the feline species is nothing new. Five thousand years ago, ancient Egyptians already worshipped at the altar of lion-headed goddess Bastet, the protector of the chief male and solar deity Ra. Three thousand years ago, when feral cats started to get domesticated, Bastet took a cat form and assumed the role of lunar protector. Her figure must have so impressed the Greek dynasties ruling Egypt in that millennium that she got translated into Greek mythology as the goddess Ailuros.
Wealthy ancient Egyptians were entombed with their beloved cats, mummified in the same procedure for humans. In Christian Jacq’s renowned historical fiction series Ramses, poet Homer was said to have traveled with a tabby in his final years. Then, 1,400 years ago, in a tale known even to many non-Muslim catlovers, the Prophet Muhammad finished a long prayer only to find a cat sleeping soundly on his spread cloak. The Prophet didn’t have the heart to disturb such peaceful repose so he chose to tear off the part the cat occupied and walked home with a raggedy cloak. Today, everywhere around the Mediterranean, a large number of stray cats still wander about unperturbed, fed and patted by locals and sometimes, bemused tourists.
Last year the media and glamour world caught on. A pudgy cat sprang onto the pitch during a Liverpool-Tottenham Hotspur game, momentarily stopping it as he decided to sit and enjoy the sudden attention. After stadium staff gently removed him, someone swiftly created a Twitter account and now the Anfield Cat tweets as ferociously as Piers Morgan during matches. CeeLo Green carried an all-white furball aptly named Purrfect during The Voice’s second season, stroking and baby-talking to her as no straight male had ever done in a globally-syndicated TV program before.
The kitty also tweeted throughout the program, cattily poking fun at Blake Shelton or Adam Levine’s grandpa sweater. Karl Lagerfeld debuted adorable Choupette through a private picture taken in his luxury bathroom, that was soon followed by, I must say, excessive news in excessive proportions. Now we all know that not only does Choupette have two full-time nannies, tweets and plays games exclusively on a personal iPad, the kitten also has co-starred in an ad featuring former Victoria’s Secret Angel, French supermodel Laetitia Costa. Jason Wu featured his cats in an entire collection the way Grace Coddington, former UK Vogue editor, incorporated hers on the handbag she designed for Balenciaga. Gorgeous pussycats are purring down Fashion Week runways and in editorials, and have even spurred an entire cosmetics line.
Then last month, the Walker Art Center, a respectable Minneapolis museum, conducted the world’s first ever cat video festival. Ten thousand entries were submitted and an equal number of people attended screening day, skipping Romney’s speech as Minneapolis mayor cheerfully reported. The winner was a two-minute opus by an American man on the existential angst of his tuxedo, French-accented puss Henri. Whether it was the funniest video that could have won is open for discussion, but it reminded me of Soseki Natsume’s novel series I Am A Cat, about human rat-race lives seen through the philosophical eyes of a housecat.
The festival finally irked some of my doglover friends enough to complain about this feline frenzy. They’d already discounted my explanations of cats being intellectual with the misguided belief that cats are unfaithful, so I resorted to physical attributes. I picked up National Geographic’s special edition and pointed at the biological facts. Since first evolving 34 million years ago, the basic structure of Felidae has only gone through two or three changes. You see, God got it right the first time with cats, which explains why they move so gracefully, as Catwoman’s gait and Balanchine’s perfect ballet landing showed, and why they simply look fabulous on camera.
I have yet to hear back again from those friends. Meow.
Lynda Ibrahim is a Jakarta-based writer and consultant, with a penchant for purple, pussycats and pop culture.