Cat Fancy: A Close Reading

Slate's Culture Blog
Aug. 24 2010 9:54 AM

Cat Fancy: A Close Reading

  The September issue is uniquely special to the annual cycle of a monthly magazine. It is an occasion for the debut of new visions and fresh makeovers , and it is a critical month for the tallying of ad pages: " the best single-issue gauge of the media marketplace ." It is as fine a time as any, then, to turn our attention to Cat Fancy . Its September book 76 pages of perfect-bound felinography is now on animal-clinic end tables everywhere, a dignified British shorthair on its front. (An identical-looking cat very possibly the same busy model graces an ad for Arm & Hammer Double Duty clumping litter on page 3.) Another two British shorthairs grace the centerfold, serene and stately in a cuddly-wuddly way, as befits the breed that inspired the grin of the Cheshire Cat .

It seems necessary to say that Cat Fancy is for real . The title is so often invoked as a joke that its factual existence may surprise some humans who do not especially fancy cats. "The world's most widely read cat magazine" has a circulation of approximately 250,000. I detect a small seismic activity created by those of you leaping to assume that the typical Cat Fancy reader is a batty old lady sitting alone in a musty living room. This assumption strikes me as ageist, sexist, and not totally inaccurate.

That said, the issue here in my hands is a tribute to the great diversity of cat fanciers. The hed and dek of the "Life's Purrfect" column only begin to address the variety of our sensibilities: "Kitten vs. Cat: Would you rather have cute and chaotic or older and refined?" The article itself is a first-person essay about the joys and responsibilities of companionship, sweet and uncomplicated. Regrettably, it sits opposite a regular humor column bearing the orange visage and dread byline of Garfield, miraculously even less impressive here on his "Garfield Weighs In" page than in the comics.

Flipping back from this spread, we discover a service-y package on senior cats, a "Breed Snapshot" of the cymric , and a profile of an American bobtail who makes his home on a schooner ("Within a few minutes of the crew's retiring, the clattering of the cat door can be heard as Gussie makes her way down the ladder and into the Captain's bunk"). Turning ahead, we find a report on adoption campaigns, a behaviorist's advice column, and a list of "45 tips for a cat-safe home." Despite its many genuinely helpful reminders "36. Dental floss is dangerous if ingested...." this list also exists as an excuse for an inset photo of a mackerel tabby spreading its jaws for a forbidden hot dog.

All told, there are approximately 70 editorial photographs of 55 separate cats in the issue. My count is merely approximate because my powers of attention were frequently dismantled by the cats' cuteness. Though none of these cats is quite so cute as my own save perhaps the little fella climbing out of a cardboard box on page 36 they are notably less aloof. An old Salon piece by David Futrelle likens the cats in Cat Fancy to the models in Playboy : "Like the Playboy bunnies, they offer themselves up to the viewer without hesitation." In life, cats have a tendency to be rather catty. Cat Fancy wishes away this fact. A magazine for people who love cats, it succeeds by allowing readers to believe that their love is perfectly reciprocated. 

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Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.