Everybody loves cute, comical animals, especially when they’re caught doing funny things. As every cable subscriber knows, whatever the hour of day or night, you can always seem to find a re-run of America’s Funniest Pets. Go online, and, if you’ve got enough time on your hands, you can amuse yourself for hours watching pets behaving like people — or, at least, like teenaged boys.
One of the most popular YouTube clips of 2006 featured a skateboarding bulldog; another starred a masturbating cat. The bulldog, Tyson, has been taken up by hipster kids as an icon of cool, with a website of his own; the self-gratifying cat, on the other hand, remains anonymous, shrouded in a veil of shame; many of those who leave comments on the clip refer to it as “sick” or “wrong”. If this seems unfair — surely indulging in solitary pleasure is more natural than riding a skateboard — it certainly bears out our preconceptions of cats and dogs. A masturbating dog would be nothing to write home about; but then, dogs — those craven, fawning beasts — don’t have a great deal of dignity to begin with.
Cats are different. We feed and care for them, and they’ve got the nerve to act as though they couldn’t care less. As a result, pictures of cats caught in undignified situations have all the appeal of karmic come-uppance. By broadcasting your cat’s private moment to the world, you’re putting him back in his place, showing him who’s boss, giving the finger to his smug, aloof pride. How else to explain the whole subset of sites that make fun of absurd-looking cats — Cats in Sinks, Stuff on my Cat, Kittenwar, My Cat Hates You — of which the most curious and engaging has to be the stroke-of-genius site, Cats that Look Like Hitler.
Cats that Look Like Hitler is the brainchild of Dutchman Koos Plegt, who came up with the idea after an encounter with a particularly Hitleresque cat in his hometown of Zwolle, in the Netherlands. This led to a discussion with friends about the striking ubiquity of Hitler-like cats, and, just for fun, Plegt set up a quick site where his pals could post snapshots of local feline Führers, or “Kitlers”, as they soon came to be known. To the Dutchman’s surprise, his site turned into a spectacular hit, and after being revamped and streamlined by Plegt’s English pal Paul Neve, it’s been featured on many television shows in Europe, and is now a well-circulated internet curiosity.
But curiosities don’t spread without cause. Plegt and Neve have clearly hit upon an odd phenomenon. There are, it turns out, an awful lot of cats that look… well, very much like Hitler. For a start, black and white (“tuxedo”) cats are extremely common. Then there’s the flat feline face, the widespread black patch under the nose suggestive of a toothbrush mustache, the narrowed eyes expressing a lofty disdain for humanity. In character, cats often seem Hitler-like, too, with their regal self-reliance, and their annoying need to annex your personal lebensraum.
Although the site in its current form has been around for less than a year, it already features 752 Kitlers, with new additions uploaded every day. Still, among all these furry fascists, a perfect Kitler is a rarity, even in the cream of the crop. Some, like Frodo (#3), are too bedraggled; others, like Chaplin (#6), too endearing. Quite a few, like Kai (#4), have the right mustache but not the floppy forelock, others, like Shiro (#21), the perfect forelock but not the tash. Kitler #2, Charlie, is dressed up in Nazi regalia, which more than makes up for his shortcomings; but only the disturbing, glowering Anonymous (#1) really has the total look.
Some of these furry fascists seem a bit dodgy, and have provoked suspicious mumblings in the forums about the use of Photoshop. But according to Plegt and Neve, all competitors must be natural Nazis; artificial enhancement is strictly against the rules. In fact, there’s a separate forum for those tempted to play around with Photoshop, with regular themes and competitions (this month features Kitlers in Space, with a prize for the best feline Führer in a sci-fi setting.) There’s also a forum for cats resembling other celebrities (the most common being other mustachioed notables like Hercule Poirot, Joseph Stalin, Charlie Chaplin, and Groucho Marx). There’s a forum for rejected Kitlers (which, if they rally enough votes, may be reconsidered for inclusion), regular debates about the merits of each contender, and, of course, a place for you to submit photos of your own little Kitler.
The popularity of Cats that Look Like Hitler lies in its appealing combination of funny pet pictures, audience participation (no dictatorship here), and the way it hovers on the edge of bad taste without going all the way. Still, to some, anything that makes light of Hitler is unconscionable, and the site includes samples of hate mail from those who are far from amused by its theme. One correspondent, clearly unfamiliar with Hitler’s well-known love of animals, makes the oddly hyperbolic claim that “Hitler killed everything living thing there was and he would kill these cute cats if he was still here.” Another outraged soul declares: “it’s people like you who oppressed and killed my people… your trying to make hitler and natzism look cute — by associating small, adorable cats with their hatred. . .”
In fact, as even a cursory glance through the site’s gallery of Kitlers reveals, not many of the cats are small, and only a rare few could fairly be described as adorable. If anything, quite the opposite is true. The genius of Cats that Look Like Hitler is how it’s found precisely the place where cute starts to seem creepy. Call it propaganda, but I think that’s no mean feat.