Unpopular Opinions is a new weekly column in which a writer takes a stand against popular opinion, whether it’s asserting the true merit of a supposedly guilty pleasure or dissenting against the universally lauded.
Unpopular Opinions as a series has focused on some serious stuff, but no issue is more dire than this. Cats and dogs have literally been in battle for centuries and that battle has rubbed off on their respective owners — there is no argument like one between a dog-person and a cat-person (except a fictional one in which the people are actually part dog/cat, part person). These epic debates oft revolve around cuteness, which is unwinnable, as cuteness is undeniably subjective. But funny is funny — you can’t fake it, you can’t “play funny.” Dogs might be the obvious choice for funniest animal, what with their tricks and human-like pantomimes, but cats are the genuinely funnier animal.
Last year, dogs had a moment. A black-and-white, silent film won the Best Picture Oscar yet everyone only talked about how it was Uggie’s final bow. Critics roared (or barked) platitudes like, “There are few challenges greater for an actor than playing an actor but Uggie breathed life into the role of an aging 1920’s film star by not losing sight of the character’s dogness.” Was I surprised at the 10-year-old terriers meteoric rise? No, as he’s just another in a long line of celebridogs who capture the zeitgeist. Last year, dogs had a moment because they always have moments, every year.
The most likely reason for this is purely a business one: dogs are easier to have on set. Film and television need an animal game for take after take of being shot with a finger gun. Dogs would do so, tail wagging, without a care in the world. A cat would feel demeaned, spoken down to, like a Juilliard trained actress who’s asked to show her boobs in her first three films.* However, easiness does not mean better or funnier. Dogs are the Adam Sandler’s of acting, game to do anything, anywhere — cats are Dave Chappelle, brilliant albeit moody geniuses, historically discerning over what projects they choose.
This is why dogs seem so drawn to lowbrow and vice versa. Like the bulldog in Sandler’s Little Nicky or maybe even lowerbrowier, the giant testicled bulldog in Van Wilder. Dogs are a shortcut, an easy buck — right now there are hundreds of aspiring screenwriters pumping out scripts about a lab or retriever or some poodle hybrid getting adopted by a good looking couple (Spoiler alert: the dog dies and the couple gets engaged). A cat wouldn’t take that role and the species have basically avoided mainstream media since the 1960s and Breakfast in Tiffany’s. The one main exception** would be the storied role of Mr. Jinx in the Meet the Parents series; however, that cat knew how to flush a toilet and spent a majority of the first film off-screen as he wisely decided to runaway and miss the films too many cringeporn scenes.
Cats and dogs fit different archetypes. Dogs are the big lugs, the fat slobs, the loyal idiots; cats are the deadpan quippers, the sarcastically clever, the intellectuals both genuine and overzealous — cats are not necessarily smart, they just have the comedic hubris as if they were. Dogs are class clowns; cats are the future Onion writer, laughing to himself in the back of the room. Dogs might play the easier to like, broader characters, but it’s the cats that really make for great comedy. Andy on Parks & Rec is often compared to a loveable golden retriever but he would come off as overly saccharine and false if it wasn’t for the feline April providing enough irony to make him palatable. To stay in Pawnee, Tom might be an excitable puppy but he is nothing compared to the kitty grumpus that is Ron Swanson (and Tumblr agrees: Dogs That Look Like Tom Haverford, meet Cats That Look Like Ron Swanson). Here is a list of more examples from NBC sitcoms:
30 Rock: Tracy, Kenneth = Dogs; Jack = Cat (it doesn’t hurt that Alec Baldwin basically speaks in a purr)
The Office: Andy = Dog; Michael = Cat
Community: Is almost an entire cast of cats except maybe Troy, MAYBE.
There are obviously exceptions; Happy Endings is made up mostly of dogs (though Brad and Jane are arguably cats). Also, there is Stephen Colbert, who is hands down the funniest dog on television but considering that that character is supposed to be a satire, it might actually be a point in the cat column.
Though, cat-like characters don’t make up for the lack of actual cats in mainstream media. It might be why, like many underrepresented groups, cats have thrived on the Internet. The “cat video” has basically defined contemporary irreverence. Dogs obviously have a role in Web 2.0 but it’s mostly videos of them sounding like they’re speaking and we all know how hack repetitive impressions can be. Through the vehicle of cats and their desire to “has cheezburgers,” the way we speak has online has fundamentally changed.
This isn’t to say that dogs are a forever useless as both entertainers and as pets. If anything, their noteworthy abilities as pets are partly to blame for their comedic shortcomings. Dogs are people pleasers, our ever-jovial best friends, always good for a smile. Cats are in it more for themselves, for the art, which is great for comedians but not necessarily for pets. So let’s make sure we keep both around for a while, as they are a comedic ying and yang. Too much of either would be too subtle or too noisy. And what’s our other choice? Hamsters? Horses? Fish!? Birds!!!!? Don’t make me watch stupid birds cracking jokes — I don’t care that they’re dinosaurs. A cat eating a bird, like it was a lion, however, that sounds hilarious.
* This also explains why cats have been used so frequently in cartoons, a medium in which they can be manipulated. No cat would agree to play the daft, second fiddle Tom (of Tom and Jerry fame). Garfield is a different story, however, he is boss (specifically, a boss who’d never work on Mondays and would force the cafeteria to always serve lasagna) and a great symbol of feline cool.
**I’m excluding the awesome cat that has been hanging with Cee-Lo on The Voice this season, as his performance is too recent for me to have appropriate critical perspective. I will say, what I love about that cat’s performance is he (or she) doesn’t try to be funny – he (or she) just is. Not unlike the cat who played the iconic role of Mr. Bigglesworth in the Austin Powers series, the cat on The Voice plays it straight as to not undermine the intended parody. A dog might mug or wink to the camera and try to get a cheap laugh out of it. Cats do not mug, they do not wink. Though, if a cat or a dog actually could wink, it would be knee-buckling adorable.
If you have your own Unpopular Opinion you want to make a case for, send a pitch to Jesse David Fox.
Jesse David Fox is a writer, cat person, and Jew (in that order). He lives in Brooklyn. He likes dogs too, dawg.
Image via Buzzfeed’s new “Animals” vertical.