Bad Kitty: A Meditation on Cat People

This is not a confession, nor a boast, just a statement of fact: I have not seen Avatar.

I try not to judge movies without having seen them. I always get annoyed when (as a rule) religious or conservative groups protest movies they haven’t bothered to see. But I have very mixed feelings about James Cameron’s work. I loved Terminator and Terminator 2, though in both, especially the sequel, much of the dialogue makes me squirm a bit. Aliens, a movie I enjoyed when it came out, doesn’t hold up well. In fact, I’d say it’s my least favorite of the Alien movies (not including the AVP spinoffs). The Abyss? Meh. Titanic is rubbish. Titanic really made me reevaluate Cameron’s canon and cast a pall over most of it.

When I saw the trailer for Avatar, I groaned. When the Stephen Lang hardcore military douche says, without irony, “You’re not in Kansas any more” I winced and knew it wasn’t for me. Anyone who uses that line in a movie now should be stripped of his WGA membership. Or at the very least heavily fined. Same goes for “We’ve got company,” “I’m getting’ too old for this shit” and “Don’t you die on me!” (I’ll forgive the final one if the person saying it is trapped beneath a gravely ill enormously obese person).

That’s not why I haven’t seen it, though.

The biggest crime of Avatar is the alien cat people. Yeah, I know what you’re saying: “But they’re not cats! They the Na’vi.” Yeah, yeah, talk to the hand. Or the paw. They’re ten-foot-tall elongated cats and much as I appreciate real kitties, cat-headed fantasy folk are, well, ucch.

I blame the late-80s TV nighttime soap, Beauty and the Beast. Now don’t get me wrong: I loves me some Ron Perlman, but the whole Lion-O with the soul-of-a-poet thing was kind of gross. And the ladies ate it up. Well, some ladies. I remember being at a sci-fi convention circa 1990 and encountering a table manned—I mean womaned—by three truly bewitching specimens (including one with a full sideshow-quality beard). They were purveyors of fan-fic (not to be confused with slash-fic, which is a whole other column’s worth of yikes). The ringleader proudly touted her recent Beauty and the Beast/Tattinger’s cross-universe novella. Ai-yi-yi. There was also some bad fan art on display featuring, yes, cat-headed people.

Over the years—for professional reasons—I’ve attended more than a few San Diego Comic Cons. In the gallery sections where attendees enter pieces for the art contest there are always a lion’s share (ha?) of cat-headed fantasy paintings. The pride of the show, if you will. Okay, I’ll stop.

To me, the long, lithe, tacky, Na’vi put me in mind of Reed Waller and Kate Worley’s anthropomorphic porn/soap comic book series, Omaha the Cat Dancer. In fact, they made me worry that the reality of an Omaha movie might not be far off. Now, I don’t feel this way about cartoon felines. Fritz the Cat, Sylvester, Top Cat (to name but a few), those are all fine because they’re not human bodies with cat noggins. Fritz might be dirty but it’s not trying to be erotic. There’s a whole substrate of anthropomorphic animal porn that just boggles my mind.

The Island of Dr. Moreau works because the humanimals are supposed to be creepy, but all these other things operate on the assumption that viewers are finding these freaks hot (and many do, I reckon). I shudder to imagine what the slash/fan erotica for Avatar is like (I really don’t want to go down that rabbit hole, if I may mix metaphors). And that’s really the nub of my beef: Avatar is the mainstreaming of Furries and Furries, while hilarious as joke fodder, are creepy as hell. I say this not as some closet Larry Craig-style in-the-closet (or would that be in-the-pet-carrier?) Furry. I wouldn’t mind Furries so much if they didn’t get all defensive when people, you know, jeered at them. Like mocking a guy (or girl) who gets his/her rocks off dressed as a cartoon cheetah is somehow tantamount to racism or homophobia.

Well, a few weeks ago it all came to a [cat] head.

There’s a recent French commercial for Orangina that features a realistically rendered CGI cat-person splashing on Orangina as aftershave (why this critter is shaving its face in the first place is a mystery). It’s got an athletic male human body and a male human partner. Okay, then. Gay bestiality to sell a soft drink. Sure, why not? Orangina has a series of incredibly creepy commercials in this vein. One starts with a humanoid bear putting the moves on a human-bodied doe on a swing and climaxes in a bottle-spurting orgy of writhing animal-people. In another a hyena-woman and her human companions enjoy some schadenfreude as another woman breaks her heel as she passes them outside a café. How catty. Or whatever that would be. Thanks, CGI. Thanks a lot. Okay, Avatar, the joke’s on me.

Bob Fingerman is the award-winning creator of such critically acclaimed graphic novels as Beg the Question, White Like She and Recess Pieces, as well as the novel Bottomfeeder. In Bottomfeeder, Fingerman took on the vampire genre, tossing away the typical gothic and romantic trappings in favor of portraying the down to earth story of a working class Queens-bred vampire. In Recess Pieces he whipped up a bloody maelstrom of adorable moppets and the living dead set within the confines of a school. He wrote the script for Dark Horse’s Zombie World: Winter’s Dregs. His most recent graphic novel was From the Ashes, a “speculative memoir” set in the post-apocalyptic ruins of New York City. His newest novel, Pariah, came out August 2010, from Tor, and is crammed full of zombies. He also has a story in the eagerly anticipated The Living Dead 2 anthology.


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