The Internet loves nothing more than cats, but it’s rare that we look beyond the cute photos and memes to more seriously consider their place in our world. Flavorwire’s Highbrow Cat Week is an attempt to remedy that, with a series of pieces devoted to analyzing their impact on the cultural realm.
The crazy cat lady is one of the oldest and most persistent cat-related cultural stereotypes — the eccentric old spinster with a bazillion cats whose company she prefers to that of her fellow humans. Cats are traditionally identified as feminine, and they’re generally characterized as pets for women, while men have dogs. If this was ever reflective of reality, it certainly isn’t in the 21st century, but cat-loving men remain curiously underrepresented in both the media and in popular culture. Into this breach step Australian filmmakers Cam McCulloch and Ben John Smith, who are in the process of making a feature-length documentary called Cat Men. The film explores the relationship between male cat fanatics and their pets, and it promises to be fascinating viewing. Flavorwire spoke to the duo about machismo, stereotyping, and the folly of talking to deaf cats.
Flavorwire: So, to begin, why a film about cat men?
Cam McCulloch: It’s something I’d never seen before. There’s heap of stuff out there about cat women, but very little about the guys. So I thought it was time to give cat men voice and tell the stories of guys like us.
Ben John Smith: Hahaha, absolutely. Plus it’s a great excuse to catch up, drink beer, and talk about cats.
How did you guys get together and decide to collaborate?
Cam: The whole film came about from a drunken discussion with Ben. He had sent me a poem about his cat, and we were swapping cat stories — as a joke, I said to him, “We should make a documentary about dudes like us.” We had a good laugh, but the more we talked about it the more it sounded like a interesting idea. We started talking about different guys we knew we could interview and guys throughout history who had been cat men, [and] it kind of snowballed from there.
Ben: We both have deaf, white, and suspiciously insane feline friends. Their flaws brought us together… like an AA meeting.
Can you talk a little bit about your personal history with cats?
Cam: Well, I’ve only been a cat owner for two years. Before that I was afraid of cats — when I was six years old, one of my grandmother’s cats scratched me on the eye, so since then if a cat jumped on me I’d freak out and throw it off. I also grew up in a house where no one liked cats; often my folks talk[ed] about cats in a negative light, which rubbed off on me as a kid. Suffice to say I wasn’t all that keen on getting a cat, but my ex-girlfriend would constantly email me photos of cats for adoption.
Finally, after about a year, I gave in and we adopted Ferdinand. One of the first things he did was pee on her side of the bed and her clothes, then followed me around. Within about a week, I went from being afraid of cats to talking to random cats in the street and trying to pet them. After my ex-girlfriend and I broke up, we had dual custody of the cat, which worked for about six months. Now he’s all mine. Ferdie is just a cool little dude. He’s deaf and loves to hide in weird places then run out and ninja me. He doesn’t really like to cuddle, but every morning at about 6 a.m. he hits me in the face until I give him a chin rub.
Ben:“I have had only three cats. I never had cats growing up. We had a dog that I couldn’t deal with. He was very needy. The first cat to move in with me was Charley — I have him tattooed on my stomach. Then there is Silvia and William. [They’re] all named after poets and writers.
Why do you think we hear about crazy cat ladies but not crazy cat men?
Cam: I think because it’s the stereotype of women and cats — you see a bag lady and think she must be a crazy cat lady. [But] guys are just as crazy about their cats. Maybe we’re less vocal about it, but then again I talk about my cat all the time to the point of boring my friends. They also point out how I used to be anti-cat and now I’m a complete cat convert.
Ben: It’s a macho thing, I’m sure of it. Men have a social predisposition toward hating cats. It’s handed down from father to son, like a rite of passage. I don’t understand it, but I’m sure that’s the way it is. Men generally don’t like cats because of the cat’s allegedly feminine selfishness.
Cats are often identified as feminine and dogs as masculine. Is there something about liking cats that challenges conventional conceptions of masculinity?
Cam: In some ways, yes. It certainly is a macho thing to have a dog. The whole culture in respect to advertising and the way dog and cat owners are portrayed respectively — i.e., guys have dogs, women have cats — is pretty evident. But at the same time, [when you look at] people who have cats and dogs, it’s the cat that usually rules the house, not the dog.
Do you think attitudes to cats have changed over recent years in this respect?
Cam: I’m not sure if it’s because of this, but I do think think there are two types of people, cat people and non-cat people. People seem to be either one or the other. It’s actually pretty cool how people can be so divided about cats — through the course of making the documentary and telling people about it, people are either like, “Why the hell would you want to do a documentary about men and cats?!” or “That sounds cool, I wanna see that!”
Who are the craziest cat men you’ve met while making the film?
Cam: So far it’s me and Ben, actually. We both have deaf cats that we talk to! To be honest, the majority of the guys we have spoken to so far have been pretty normal. The one [common] factor has been the human aspect behind the cat ownership: what guys get out of having a cat, the influence cats have on their lives… it’s pretty unique. Cats are pretty selfish creatures, yet we dote on them. We have some interesting guys lined up to interview. I hesitate to using the word crazy, but yeah, some of these guys are really obsessed with their animals!
And the craziest cats?
Cam: So far most of the cats have been pretty good, but I have been bitten and scratched a few times.
Cam: I think it’s because cats have a air of superiority about them. After all, we did used to worship them. The cat on the lap of a villain is a intimidation thing, but I’m pretty sure behind closed doors the villains are talking in baby voices to their cats.
And why do you think the Internet is so obsessed with cats?
Cam: I think because cats are one of the most random creatures around. Mine does funny stuff all the time, plus they’re really cute.
Ben: That’s like dividing time from space. There is no Internet without cats and vice versa. They, like, invented it or something.
So, where’s the project at right now?
Cam: We’re currently doing the Australian portion of the film, and lining up interviews overseas. It’s quite a long process. In a few months we will launch our [Australian crowd-funding site] Pozible campaign to take the project worldwide and interview cat men from all over the world. This is where it’s going to get really cool — we have teed up some pretty cool guys. For example, we plan to go to Japan and speak to the owner of one of Tokyo’s famous cat cafés, and we’re also investigating the controversial cat circus in Russia.
Ben: We just need some time and funds and we will let the cat out of the bag. Right now our focus is putting together the Australian material and doing a few more interviews, and making a awesome preview video for the crowd-sourcing. We have posted some test clips on our website, but the actual stuff from the doc looks and sounds a lot more polished. We will be showing off some of these new clips soon also.
Cam: We’re also looking for more guys to interview, so if anyone out there thinks they have what it takes, drop us a line and we will talk cats!