In one of my favorite South Park episodes, Kyle’s father Gerald uproots his family and moves to San Francisco because, he explains, he can no longer stand the narrow minded, gas-guzzler-driving, gun owning people of South Park.
He throws a party in his San Fran townhouse, inviting his new neighbors who all have multi-hyphenate last names and a habit of speaking with their eyes closed, settling into deeply self-satisfied reverie as they literally savor the smell of their own farts.
“Can you believe those morons in Texas just executed another prisoner?” one of Gerald’s new neighbors says, tooting into an empty wine glass before raising it to his nose like an aromatic vintage and taking a deep, enthusiastic huff. “Things are just so much more progressive in San Francisco.”
While reading this article about the Portland metro area boasting the highest percentage of single cat-owning men in the country (more than twice the percentage here in New York, and almost three times more than Miami), I couldn’t help but picture some of the men in the story as crudely drawn South Park characters, inhaling air biscuits as they associate an animal with their politics.
“I think it makes sense because it’s a more progressive part of the country,” one of the men told the Seattle Times as he tried to explain Portland’s high percentage of single “cat daddies.” “I think there’s more freedom to not be ‘toxically masculine’ in this part of the country.”
Because we can’t help but ruin everything with politics in this country, the effort to drag cats and dogs into the left-right divide has been picking up steam in recent years, aided by click-seeking media.
“Republicans Are Dog People, While Democrats Prefer Cats,” reads a Business Insider headline. “What our cats and dogs say about our politics,” reads another from the Washington Post. Time magazine quizzed 220,192 readers on their politics and pet preferences, concluding: “It’s True, Liberals Like Cats More Than Conservatives Do.”
The alleged political divide over companion animals has been the subject of research papers in psychology and veterinary journals, and pets are now routinely included in the ideologically-motivated invective that saturates social media. Conservatives are portrayed as poor, shotgun-toting rednecks driving beat-up pickups covered in Gadsden flags while their faithful but stupid dogs hang their heads out of the windows, trailing globs of drool.
Liberals, meanwhile, are portrayed as unmarried middle age women who spend their Saturday nights on their couches with pints of Ben & Jerry’s and their feminine, useless cats, bemoaning their lack of relationships.
The incels and pick-up game “artists” have even gotten in on it.
“Only a cat-owning bitch would complain to the police about a f—ing joke,” manosphere influencer Andrew Tate raged in a 2022 video after one of his intentionally inflammatory social media posts provoked a stronger response than he anticipated. “Who calls the police on a f—ing joke? Cat owners. Cat owners are liberals. Cat owners believe in hate speech. Cat owners are Democrats. Cat owners are dickheads!”
Tate, by the way, has been rotting in a Romanian prison since December after he was arrested and accused of running a human trafficking ring that exploited young women. Tate, his brother and their associates lured the victims with declarations of love and promises to get married. Once the young women arrived in Romania, the country’s authorities said, Tate and his crew would confiscate their passports, imprison them in Tate’s mansion near Bucharest, and force them to perform sex acts on live streams for the financial benefit of the defendants.
Tate was arrested after unsuccessfully trying to troll Greta Thunberg on Twitter by showing off his expensive, gas-guzzling hypercars and bragging that he likes to eat pizza without recycling the boxes. Romanian police, who were already looking at Tate in a wider human trafficking probe, noticed the pizza boxes seen in his videos were from a local chain and moved quickly to arrest him.
Tate has lost three appeals to toss the case, which is ongoing. But the alleged human trafficker still boasts a massive and loyal online following, and as far as his fans are concerned, his words are law. If Andrew Tate says cats are the preferred pets of “liberal bitches,” then it’s true in the eyes of his fans, many of whom pay hundreds of dollars a month for an online “school” where Tate purports to teach them the finer points of masculinity.
Aside from ruining yet another one of life’s joys by dragging politics into it, I’m worried that pets will pay the price for the misguided effort to associate them with ideology.
Cats in particular are already extremely vulnerable and tend to get the brunt of abuse by proxy. That is to say, studies show men who are abusive toward women often target cats belonging to women as proxies for their anger. They associate felines with the feminine. Women target cats to harm their exes and significant others as well, but there’s a lack of statistics since men don’t usually seek help in domestic violence situations.
Likewise, sitting on porches while drinking beer and shooting at critters who happen by is practically an official sport in some parts of the country. As someone who has Google News alerts set up for cat-related stories, I see the same depressing stories every day: cats who die a few feet from their front doors or who make it home with BB wounds, arrows sticking out of their chests or actual gunshot wounds.
Those stories are so common, it’s difficult not to despair for the poor cats and for whatever diseased way of thinking prompts people to hurt and kill innocent animals.
Do we really want to give people more incentive to kill cats?
Do we want gun owners regaling each other with stories about how many “liberal cats” they’ve shot?
Do we want potential caretakers passing on adopting cats because they’re worried their choice of pet indicates they belong to a certain ideological tribe? After all, everything from the cars we drive and the stores we shop, to observing basic hygienic practices during a pandemic, allegedly says something about our political beliefs.
As for men who love cats, we already deal with absurd stereotypes. (We’re invariably described as gay, feminine and somehow not as manly as dog owners, even those of us who have hulking, muscular house tigers like Buddy!) We don’t need to encourage even more stereotypes, and in general I think we could all do with less box-checking. Life is not a Myers-Briggs test.
I know one thing for certain: cats are masters of living in the moment, and they have no patience for human nonsense like politics. They are innocent and pure. Sullying them with political associations is a disservice to these regal, wonderful animals.