A friend of mine posted on Facebook last night that their family’s lost cat had returned home safe and sound. The circumstances of the cat’s disappearance sounded suspiciously like the cat never considered itself lost and was instead exploring its environment, perhaps hot on the trail of some delicious baby bunnies. Don’t give me that “oh poor bunnies” moan. It’s a well-known fact that bunnies are edible. It’s why they have so many babies. If it weren’t for cats, bunnies would have overrun the earth by now. Also, automobiles help keep the bunny population in check. And then crows eat them. So, cats, cars, and crows are keeping us safe from the Monty Python-esque scenario in which bunnies evolve into predatory carnivores that can only be destroyed with explosive devices. What was I talking about?
After seeing the post about my friend’s cat returning home from its hunting expedition, I was reminded of the old Sesame Street sketch with Ralf the Dog singing about a cat who kept coming back. It was a favorite of mine as a child, unsurprisingly titled “The Cat Came Back.” I had not watched this particular Muppets ditty in decades (perhaps since I was a kid) but I always liked it and did remember some of the lyrics. I searched out the video and re-watched a childhood memory with glee. (Here’s a YouTube link if you want to watch for yourself, which I do recommend.) Ralf plays the banjo and sings while the story plays out behind him. It’s a catchy tune. But here’s the thing about this 1970s masterpiece of Muppets and music: it’s actually horrifying. The entire song is about some kid named Benny whose mother is trying to get rid of his cat; the poor kitty is evicted from his home repeatedly, in drastically escalating the methods of removal each time the cat returns home. Also, the cat wears an eye patch. He might be a pirate. It’s never explained.
Initially, the cat is simply given away to a stranger. Predictably, since “the cat came back” is the refrain, the cat returns home. Later, the cat is put in a car and driven “West” but the driver (who isn’t even Toonces the Driving Cat) crashes into a tree, the cat escapes unscathed, and again returns home. Eventually, the cat is put into a cannon and fired into the air. This causes Benny’s neighbors to surrender, but the cat survives. At the end a sketchy fellow hands puss a bomb with a burning fuse in an attempt to blow up the poor beast. (See how I circled back around to destroying animals with explosives?) Here’s the thing: What on earth was Sesame Street trying to communicate to me as a child?
As I watched this Muppets song on YouTube, I had no recollection of how violent the story actually was—car wrecks, cannons, blowing up pets. Does the ASPCA know about this? Should I call PETA? As I look around the world at all the violence and destruction, I can’t help but wonder if seemingly innocuous and “kid-friendly” media is partly to blame. I know a lot of studies have been done over the years about whether or not simulated violence in the media causes children to act violently, but this seems different somehow. The narrative that fuzzy Ralf the Dog communicates to young viewers is that violent acts are harmless and have no consequences. You can put kitty in a cannon and he’ll be fine. Cats have nine lives, right? Also, that you can abuse weaker life forms and they’ll still love you.
If you have an unwanted pet, the best solution is not to attempt to kill the animal with explosives. I recommend a local animal shelter. Or better yet, don’t get a cat if you’re not prepared to take care of it because, unlike the kitty Ralf is singing about, stray cats have very sad, hard lives, and short painful deaths. Please teach your kids that cats cannot survive being blown up or crashed into trees.
In summation, I’m glad my friends got their cat back. I am 99.9% certain they didn’t fire it out of a cannon.