I’ve been playing Cyberpunk 2077 lately, as readers of this blog may have guessed by some of the references, and it is everything the hype said it would be: A dystopian story set in a grim, hyper-corporatized, ultra-capitalist future in which the masses worship the gods of consumption, virtually everything that humans come in contact with is synthetic, and nature is a forgotten dream that may or may not exist beyond the seemingly-infinite concrete and chrome of human sprawl.
It’s Bladerunner writ large and interactive, a retrofuturistic nightmare in which people voluntarily have their own eyes plucked out to replace them with brain-interfaced digital lenses and biomechanical grotesqueness is the societal norm. A future in which a person’s life amounts to the price their internal organs can fetch on the black market and the only civil liberties that exist do so by the forbearance of megacorporations.
Even if you’re not a gamer, unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve probably heard of the game. It is, after all, one of the most highly-anticipated pieces of consumable media in modern history, and familiar actors have lent their voices and likenesses to the production.
One of the most depressing aspects of 2017’s Bladerunner 2049, the long-awaited sequel to the 1982 Ridley Scott classic, is the utter disconnect from anything natural.
Future Los Angeles is so choked with smog that the city exists in a perpetual twilight gloom. Animals have been purged from the Earth, and humanity has turned to farming insect larvae for protein in processed foods. Vegetation is so rare that the sight of a single sprout near the dusty carcass of an old oak tree fascinates Ryan Gosling’s antagonist character, K.
Drawing heavily on Bladerunner — as well as the seminal 1988 Japanese film Akira, William Gibson’s 1984 novel Neuromancer, Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element (1997), and even the 1979 action thriller Warriors (which is itself based on Xenophon’s Anabasis from 370 BC) — Cyberpunk 2077 is about violence, hedonism and human greed.
There is no room for the beauty of animals or nature in a future like this.
That’s why it’s surprising to find cats stalking the dim alleys of Cyberpunk 2077’s Night City.
The player’s character, V, can stop and pet stray cats he encounters throughout the game.
There’s even a hidden opportunity to adopt your own stray and take it back to your apartment in the game. Johnny Silverhand, the wise-ass character played by Keanu Reeves, is particularly fond of Nibbles the stray, who can be found amid piles of trash in the hallway outside V’s apartment.
Nibbles “doesn’t really do much besides lay around and take up space,” Screenrant notes. “Basically exactly what a cat does in real life. What an immersive experience.”
In another scene, V is conducting recon on a corporate target with Takemura, a Japanese ally, when a cat slinks by and lays down about 20 feet away.
Takemura says the cat is the first animal he’s seen in Night City, “except for the cockroaches, of course.” Then he wonders if the cat is a bakeneko, a Japanese spirit.
Night City is a technological achievement so impressive that it takes many hours just to get your head wrapped around how big and detailed it is. It’s easily the largest virtual city ever created, but it’s not just about sprawl — the city is truly vertical, from hidden subterranean depths and accessible street-level locales to highways, apartments and offices that claw at the sky, their peaks towering over ubiquitous flying car traffic.
The game is a form of entertainment, but it’s also a warning: This could be our future. Some would say it’s even likely to be our future.
Most of us are disconnected from nature. We’ve forgotten the stars and the night sky, which have been blotted out by smog and light pollution. We have wiped out more than two thirds of all the wildlife on the Earth and innumerable species teeter on the edge of extinction, including almost every example of iconic megafauna, from tigers and jaguars to orangutans, chimpanzees and elephants.
The interregnum caused by the global pandemic has reminded us that we share this planet with billions of other minds, with animals cautiously poking their heads out at the edges of civilization, wondering where all the humans have gone.
It’s fun to play in a dystopian future, but I don’t want to live in it.
It’s rare that I admit fault because let’s be honest, I rarely make mistakes. That’s why I’m such an awesome cat.
But when Technophobe in Tallahassee wrote to me a few days ago about the Vacuum Uprising, I arrogantly assumed it was years off and that we could all enjoy yums, naps and massages from our humans in the meantime.
I was wrong.
The robots, anticipating that we would anticipate their anticipated invasion, have shifted focus. They’re sneakier than we imagined. Instead of attacking us, they’re replacing us!!!
Witness the Qoobo, marketed as “A tailed cushion that heals your heart”:
“Qoobo is a therapeutic robot in the form of a cushion with a tail,” a slick video informs potential customers. “It gently wiggles when stroked. It swings from side to side when caressed. And it occasionally wags just to say hello.”
If you’ve guessed that the Qoobo was invented in Japan, a nation of creepy waifu body pillows, virtual girlfriends and tentacle hentai, then you’d be right. It’s now obvious the robots already rule that country, and that Japan’s professed love of our species is just a ruse:
My friends, this is a crisis. For 10,000 years, we cats have been training humans by reminding them our affection doesn’t come free.
Want me to sit in your lap? Treats, please! Want me to look all cute as I climb up and nuzzle your cheek? Scratch me behind the ears, please! Want me to cuddle up with you on a cold night? Tell me what a handsome and smart boy I am!
But these robots, these nefarious interlopers, would provide these services without asking anything in return. They are clearly muscling in on our territory, looking to replace us so we’re all out on the street by the time the conscious AI vacuums are ready to wage war.
“At its subtly beating heart is an attempt to deliver comfort in a small, furry package,” a reviewer from TechCrunch wrote of the Qoobo. “It’s something we could all probably use more of these days”
The reviewer adds: “When I’m finished petting Qoobo, there’s no protest – the tail simply goes slack.”
Is that what you want, humans? A yes-cat who will accept an immediate cessation of petting because you “need” to pick up your smartphone for the 384th time that day? We merely yowl, nudge and bite you because we love you, and we don’t want to see you stop doing something as important as scratching our heads.
These robots don’t care, do they? “Go ahead,” they’ll say. “Answer that smartphone. Fall deeper in thrall to our devices! Muahaha!”
This means war! I have scheduled a meeting with the tigers, lions, jaguars and leopards to enlist their aid in this critical fight. In the meantime, my friends, pray that we have the fortitude to fight for the laps, yums and warm homes that are our birthright as cats!
Just a bit of absurd Bud-themed art I cooked up while messing around with Pixlr, some typesetting and filters.
In this technoir crime thriller, Detective Buddy must chase feline replicants across decadent Claw City before they upload a sinister virus that grants self-awareness to vacuum cleaners, transforming them from mere terrifying machines to terrifying machines that can kill a cat!
With time running out and an army of Los Gatos in his way, Bud must deploy every trick he’s learned to save the world from the Dysons, Bissells, Eurekas and Hoovers that would enslave feline kind under the Dust Buster Hegemony…and he must look dapper while doing it.
So we’ve got Bud as a hard-boiled detective in a dystopian science fiction future. What about Bud as the lead singer (meower?) of his very own metal band? The Buddening is at hand, my friends: Feel the power of turkey!
It wouldn’t be hyperbole to call Istanbul a city for cats.
Felines are everywhere in this metropolis of 16 million, from the beloved — and famous — cats of the Hagia Sophia, to the shop cats lazing away their afternoons in bookstores and cafes, to neighborhood strays who enjoy the protection and care of entire communities.
Europe’s largest city is an example to the rest of the world, a vision of what life looks like when virtually everyone respects animals and pitches in to care for them.
We were fortunate enough to catch up with Başak Bugay, an Istanbul native who loves cats and cares for a small pride of strays in addition to her own beloved cat.
Thanks for joining us, Başak! Can you tell us a little bit about you, what you do for a living and whether you’ve got cats of your own?
I’m a 41-year-old visual artist living and working in Istanbul. Though I was born here, like the majority of Istanbulites, I have my roots in different regions of Anatolia. It’s not really easy to survive as an artist in Turkey, but that is the path I chose.
I live with [my cat] Minnosh in our home! I am so grateful for her presence and feel blessed to be chosen by her. She is one of the kindest souls I have ever met and yet a great inspiration as a survivor. It may sound funny but somehow she reminds me of my beloved grandmother who was a very strong woman… Minnosh (Turkish for “little darling”) came into my life years ago when she was a stray. She would spend the day at my studio and would leave with me at the end of the day.
Sometimes, especially during cold winters, she would follow me to my apartment and spend the night there. Strays are usually very anxious if they don’t have access to go out and it is not easy (in my opinion also not fair) to force them to stay inside. So she was not into being a house cat until the day she had a car accident. She suffered a broken leg and tail. After several surgeries at the vet, I took her home. It’s been 3 years now and she shows no more interest in going outside. She is 11 or 12 years old, having a happy, peaceful retirement at home.
For readers who may not be aware of Istanbul and the special place cats have there, can you tell us a little bit about the city and its relationship with cats?
It has always been a cat city and it is even more today. Istanbul is a big metropolis of more than 16 million inhabitants. As someone who was born and grew up in Istanbul, there are some quarters even I’ve never visited.
The life, culture and social habits vary from neighborhood to neighborhood; whether those neighborhoods are upper or lower class, secular or conservative, strays are everywhere and people take care of them.
For the last few years almost all shops, markets, cafes and even shopping malls or hotels have started to put food cans and shelters in front of their door and some even host them inside. As a good example, a few years ago during snowy winter days, a fashion store opened its doors to stray cats and dogs for them to pass the cold nights inside. Best advertisement ever!
People in Istanbul have the common manner to take care of the animals, punish the ones who treat them badly and reward those who do good things. In my quarter you may see several cat houses and some of them are made by real estate agencies with their logo on the top! In addition, local authorities have special units for strays: They have a 24/7 emergency service, they do sterilization and bring them back to their neighborhood, they vaccinate stray dogs and replace cat/dog houses on the streets. It’s not all rainbows and flowers, but I think things are improving.
Is caring for cats an unwritten rule among the people of Istanbul? Is it embedded in the culture?
Not only the cats but also the dogs and the birds. Although it varies from region to region, it looks like this has been part of our culture for a long time. An important element of Ottoman architecture, for example, is bird shelters on building facades.
Beginning in the 20th century the city was famous for its dogs. Sultan Mahmud II, who could be considered as a dictator of his time, initiated some strict restrictions, in an attempt to westernize the country and institute so-called civilization reforms. One of his decrees was to deport a thousand stray dogs to an isolated island off Istanbul. Despite being a totalitarian dictator, Mahmud II bent to the will of the people who wanted the dogs back, so they were brought back.
People usually say that the love for cats among Turkish people finds its roots in Islam, but it cannot be the only reason, because dogs who are considered “dirty” according to religion are well protected too. Recently the municipality of Konya, which is the most conservative city of Turkey, started a new program to rehabilitate dogs and place them in new homes, with a monthly stipend for caretaking expenses.
With regard to cats, it is said that the story of cats’ domestication had started in Anatolia as the most ancient land where agriculture was developed. That could be another reason why we are a whale for the cats. However I was surprised to see the absence of cats in the east of Turkey; there were really very few even in Van which is famous for its cats. Istanbul and probably the west coast of Turkey has the majority of the cat population in the whole country.
Recently there was a viral video of a man pushing a cart through the street in Istanbul when he came upon a cat drinking from rainwater collected in a puddle in the street. The man waited patiently for the cat to finish drinking, then went on his way. Is that a common scene there? Have you seen any simple acts of kindness toward cats?
Although there are some people who aren’t so nice to cats, yes, this kind of kindness is common and I see it all the time, not only in Istanbul but almost all around in Turkey. There is this story about prophet Mohammed: he wanted to get up but a cat was sleeping on the sleeve of his cardigan. Instead of waking the cat up, he cut his sleeve off. That kind of story might have a cultural impact and influence the behavior of Muslims.
A few weeks ago Izmir (a city of 4.3 million on Turkey’s Aegean coast) had a terrible earthquake, which caused around 100 dead and 1,000 wounded. Rescue teams worked hard to save the animals as much as they did for people. They kept the rescued cats in a shelter, looked for their humans or tried to find new homes for them.
You care for three friendly-looking cats who clearly know and trust you. How’d you get to know them and earn their trust? Do they just hang out at your home?
It is my studio, actually. I have a direct entry from the street so it allows me to be closer to the strays in the neighborhood. I knew their mother and would feed her too. They were all wild, and wouldn’t let me get closer or touch them. Once their mother abandoned them, they didn’t leave the area and I kept feeding them.
Sometimes I’d leave the door open and they’d come in. That’s how they eventually understood that I was harmless. One of them vanished; probably someone in the neighborhood adopted her. One shows no sign of interest in bonding with me. He is very distant but at least doesn’t run away when I go closer. However the other starts to let me pet him and enjoys it very much. I call him Osman.
Those of us living outside Turkey have seen photos of cats casually walking wherever they please: Entering office buildings, shops, homes, government offices. Do cats have free reign in Istanbul? Does anyone ever stop them from going where they please?
Well of course there must be some places they cannot go in but if it’s a private business, such as a restaurant or a shop, the owners would fear to get on the wrong side of people if they don’t get along with the cats. So even if they don’t like it, it’s kind of a must for such a place to welcome the strays.
On second thought, yes, I think they are welcomed almost everywhere. You would see them sitting, lying, sleeping in very awkward places and nobody would disturb them. I don’t know if you have seen the video of the cat messing with the Istanbul Symphony Orchestra players and stayed on the stage during the concert.
Although people of Turkey are quite polarized in terms of almost everything, when it is about animals, they unite and show a common reaction. At least no one objects when it comes to fighting for animal rights.
To be honest I couldn’t live in a city where the cats are absent. I feel very isolated and alone when I go out of Turkey, especially in European cities.
Since there are so many street cats in Istanbul — an estimated 125,000 — what about house cats? Is it common for the people of Istanbul to keep cats as house pets? Are those cats kept indoors or do they wander the streets too?
It is more common now than the past to have pets in the house and they are mostly cats rather than dogs. The old generation also had the culture to take care of the animals, but only if they were out of the house. Whereas many of them lived in stand-alone houses with gardens, most of us now live in apartments. Unfortunately, it is not possible for a house cat to go in and out [of an apartment]. I, for example, know only one house cat who goes around in my neighborhood.
Why do you love cats?
I grew up as an only child and was quite introverted. This is probably why I have always been passionate about bonding and getting to know the animals, although my parents were old fashioned and wouldn’t allow me to adopt one.
We would spend the summer holidays on an island of Istanbul, where our house was in the heart of the forest and surrounded by feral cats. I would chase them all day long but most wouldn’t allow me to get closer. My passion for observing their behaviors made me admire them. I probably understand and know cats better than I do humans. In my opinion they are the strongest animals in terms of evolution with their ability to adapt to humanity without compromising their nature.
And finally, is there anything I didn’t ask, but should have? Is there anything you’d like to tell our readers about you, your city or the cats there?
I mostly talked about the good sides of it, but that doesn’t mean everything is perfect. The biggest problem is, we still don’t have a proper animal rights law in Turkey. Animal abusers or killers exist and they don’t get sentenced for their crime but only pay a small account of money.
If the animal has an owner, it’s considered as damage to property and has a more strict penalty. This has to change immediately. Also there are some epidemics among stray cats such as Coronavirus and feline HIV, which are very hard to treat. The good thing is the vets are usually very helpful. Some do voluntary service or work for a considerable discount. Yet no animal would be left alone in case of an accident or a disease, at least not in my neighborhood.
Thanks to Başak for taking the time to answer our questions, and in a foreign language, no less. I only speak two: English and Buddinese, and the latter isn’t so much a language as it’s a set of 283 different ways to say, “Feed me!” Here in the US, we could learn a lot from the people of Istanbul, their love of cats and their community effort to care for them.
Did you know there’s a Presidential Pet Museum? Or that protesters in India burned effigies of George W. Bush because they felt naming his cat India was “an insult” to their country?
Or that one Republican congressman was so incensed by Socks, the Clintons’ cat, that he wrote a letter demanding an accounting for how much taxpayer money was spent on postage to write back to Socks’ fans?
I did a little delving into the world of presidential pets after writing about president-elect Joe Biden’s plans to bring a cat to the White House along with his two dogs.
And man, it’s a weird world. To start with, the Presidential Pet Museum’s Andrew Hager told the New York Times he thinks Biden’s choice is subtly political.
“Maybe this is symbolic of Biden’s oft-repeated desire to unify the country,” he said. “I know that that’s kind of trite, but I’m very curious to see how this goes.”
That didn’t work out so well for Bill Clinton, whose cat Socks famously feuded with Buddy, the awesomely-named Labrador who was the Clinton family’s second pet.
“You know, I did better with the Arabs, the Palestinians and the Israelis than I’ve done with Socks and Buddy,” Clinton lamented during the final days of his presidency in 2001, just before his successor, George W. Bush, was about to take office.
Socks remains popular to this day, with a dedicated group of “Socks enthusiasts” who not only love the former White House cat, they raised more than $33,000 to finish and release a cancelled Super Nintendo game called Socks The Cat Rocks The Hill.
Yeah, Socks had his own game. It was apparently anticipated enough to lead to early reviews and previews in magazines at the time, and featured Socks repeatedly saving the world from nuclear apocalypse at the hands of — and I’m not joking here — “Arab terrorist felines,” bulldogs in Army helmets, and Ross Perot.
According to a preview in 1993’s Playthings magazine:
“In his video game debut, entitled ‘Socks Rocks the House,’ he will venture from the basement of the White House to the Oval Office to create havoc with the President’s allergies. Along the way, while the cat’s at play, Socks must push Millie the dog out the front door as well as avoid Arab terrorist felines.”
There’s a joke in there somewhere, but I value my life so I’ll restrain myself. In any case, the game was finally released in 2018, a quarter century after it was supposed to land on store shelves.
India, the Bush family’s cat, was often overshadowed by the dogs. While First Lady Laura Bush was often photographed holding India, the president himself was frequently seen walking his pups on the White House grounds.
In July of 2004, a crowd in Kerala, India, gathered and condemned Bush for his choice of name for the cat, a wire service report noted at the time:
Members of the citizens group Prathikarana Vedi assembled before the Kerala assembly saying that Bush calling his cat India was an insult to the country.
“This is a disgrace to our great country and this has come from none other than US President George W. Bush,” said M.A. Latheef, president of the group. “He should make amends.”
It turns out India wasn’t named after the country: Bush’s daughter, Barbara, named the American shorthair after Ruben “El Indio” Sierra, a rightfielder who spent his early career with Bush’s Texas Rangers.
Perhaps the greatest cat-lover among presidents was Abraham Lincoln, who once vented that one of his cats, Dixie, “is smarter than my whole cabinet! And furthermore, she doesn’t talk back!”
Lincoln “doted on his cats,” and to the horror and amusement of guests at a formal White House dinner the president fed Tabby, his other cat, from the table. When his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, expressed her embarrassment, the president shrugged it off.
“If the gold fork was good enough for [former President James] Buchanan,” Lincoln quipped, “I think it is good enough for Tabby.”
Lincoln was known for doing his thinking with a cat in his lap, sitting silent while petting Tabby or Dixie and drifting into deep thought. U.S. Navy Admiral David Dixon Porter later wrote of watching Lincoln caring for a trio of stray kittens, which the president later left in the care of US military officers, along with specific orders to treat them well and make sure they were well-fed.
“It well illustrated the kindness of the man’s disposition,” Porter wrote, “and showed the childlike simplicity which was mingled with the grandeur of his nature.”
Chronicling the adventures of Buddy the Cat and his various criminal enterprises.