The Cat Fancy & Television

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Have you ever wondered what kind of impression the average person has regarding cat breeders?

It's not easy to try to put yourself into another person's shoes and assume the position of an outsider looking in . . . but not long ago, I had the opportunity to do just that — to see how a group of "non-cat people" reacted to a TV show featuring cat exhibitors — and it was an eye-opener for me!

I was spending the day as a guest at a large family reunion. Almost 60 people were attending the event, varying in age from a two year old toddler to an 81-year-old grandfather. It was an all day affair, with hours spent talking, cooking, eating, playing video games and watching TV.

When a TV program came on featuring cats, I heard my name shouted and most of the clan squeezed in front of the big screen TV to watch while I was prompted to be the "color commentator". It was an entertaining program that followed several cat breeders at home preparing their cats for a big cat show and then it followed them through the judging at the show. I knew the breeders featured and thought the program was nicely done. At one time I worked as a producer and director in television, so I understand the challenges in putting together a documentary-style program such as this was.

What did surprise me, however, was the response of the mostly non-cat people who watched the program. It was with quite a different eye than mine. The impression the program gave them was that all cat people were slightly crazy - and I saw them looking at me somewhat quizzically waiting for me to break out in feline eccentricities. I think they were expecting me to cough up a fur ball at the very least...

The "Crazy Cat Lady" Stereotype

Almost everyone knows what is meant by the expression "Crazy Cat Lady". Every town has a Crazy Cat Lady. She's the one who lives in a tiny house full of felines. The crazy cat lady loves cats, has a lot of them, and they are the most important things in her life.

While the cat breeders featured in the program were certainly not crazy cat ladies, the program did show things that non-cat people might interpret as a bit "over-the-edge"...

The Reaction of Non-Cat People

Things that we hardly notice as cat breeders can appear odd or even bizarre to the non-cat owner. For instance, below are just a few of the things that my "sample audience" thought peculiar or that sent them into gales of derisive laughter:

  • Statements such as " My cats are my children"
  • "I cook the finest food for my cats. I don't even cook for my husband"
  • Kissing the cats for the camera
  • A kitchen exclusively for the preparation of the cat's food
  • Clothing and accessories worn by the people that had a feline theme
  • Cats in costume
  • A house decorated everywhere with cat paraphernalia
  • Cats in cages
  • When a cat flattened its ears and hissed the audience howled, making a sarcastic comment about how wonderful a pet that cat would make.
  • Slinky cats, in this case Orientals, appeared too thin in the opinion of non-cat people.
  • Bathing a cat in a shower stall
  • Discussing and showing off cat awards
  • Overly dramatic speech or hand gestures

and the list goes on...

Avoiding The "Crazy Cat Lady" Stereotype

Many of the things that the non-cat owners in the audience found bizarre were things that any person who loves cats would totally understand... but if the goal of participating in a program or consenting to being the subject of a television piece is to promote the cat fancy, it would be smart to avoid the Crazy Cat Lady stereotype... and in the interest of sexual equality, that includes Crazy Cat Guys too...

  • Consider how your word could be interpreted... Instead of " My cats are my children," rather say, "My cats are treasured members of our family".
  • I cook the finest food for my cats. I don't even cook for my husband. Instead, discuss that in order for cats in a breeding program to be able to meet the additional nutritional needs of reproducing, you feed the finest food - including raw meat preparation. Similar to a race horse, show cats also need peak nutrition to be their best.
  • Compare show coat preparation to the hair care of a model.
  • Instead of kissing the cats for the camera, pet and scratch and play with them in a loving manner.
  • To avoid being thought obsessive or over-indulgent, explain why you have adjusted your lifestyle to accommodate your show cats.
  • Avoid clothing and accessories with cats all over them unless everyone else is making a similar fashion statement.
  • If possible remove cute cat home decor. While you may love your 217 ceramic cat figurines sitting on shelves on every wall of your home, it will appear a bit "obsessed" to most people
  • Don't dress your cat in clothes or hats.
  • Even if you cage your cats, it might be more circumspect to avoid allowing that to be filmed. While you may have a Cattery of Excellence, the general public is never going to be impressed seeing cats housed in a row of cages. If your cats are caged, you may want to reconsider having them filmed in that particular environment.
  • Discuss in a general manner the various goals a cat exhibitor can achieve. The general public will not understand the significance of specific awards other than perhaps Best Cat.
  • Try to show a sense of humor and charm about things that cat breeders take in stride but that may seem odd to non-cat people.
  • Be enthusiastic, but not overly dramatic. Don't try to have too much personality for the camera:-).
  • Avoid appearing childish, immature or even slightly crazy :-)

Use humor to counter the stereotypes made about people who love cats.

Your Cats

If cats are going to be presented during the interview, try to insure that they will be good ambassadors for their breed:

  • Show only good tempermented cats
  • Show kittens if possible. They tend to charm the viewer easily.
  • Have toys ready for the cats to play with so there will be "action" shots.
  • While pencil thin is "in" with Hollywood starlets, many people would think a Cornish Rex or show Siamese are abnormally skinny or unhealthy. Explain about breed characteristics. Try to use references most people will understand. Because most people are more familiar with the dog breeds than cat breeds, you could explain by comparing a slinky cat to a greyhound or whippet.

Let the cats be the stars of the show.

In Conclusion

Whether the interview is for a newspaper, magazine, radio or television, it pays to think a bit beforehand about how best to present yourself in order to portray cat breeders in a positive light. Being prepared, having a clear message, and knowing what to expect will help make the interview a good experience that will reflect well on the individual specifically and the cat fancy in general. Anything that gives credibility to the "Crazy Cat Lady" stereotype should be avoided at all costs :-).

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