A single man with cats is now in the news in a high-profile way - what fun for the media! Nowhere was this more evident than in what is perhaps the media blog of all media blogs, Gawker. "Rahm Emmanuel's replacement is obsessed with cats," the headline proclaimed. The replacement whose name does not appear in the story title is Pete Rouse, the new White House chief of staff.
In the 6-paragraph story, the word "cat" or some synonym was mentioned at least 20 times. (So who's really obsessed with cats, Pete Rouse or Gawker?) The money line was a quote from another reporter who said this about Rouse:
"Some observers suggest, ever so gently, that Rouse's cat devotion is related to his lack of a personal life."
Gawker follows that quote with these final two paragraphs of the story:
"Oh god, that last sentence was kind of sad! Rouse, you see, is an unmarried, childless workaholic - perfect for a White House chief of staff. His only hobby is to bury his face in cat fur and play with cat toys and eat cat cookies for maybe 15 minutes each day.
"So there's your background on Pete Rouse: cats, cats, cats. He is the Catman. If you ever get a chance to meet him, give him a cat, and maybe your questionable tax returns won't get audited this year."
I'll get to some of my own analysis at the end of this post, but the people who posted comments at Gawker come first. This is one of those "bad news, good news" columns. The bad part is obvious - here we go again with the mocking of singles and their pets. The good news came courtesy of the many terrific comments.
First, there were the readers who called this what it was. For example:
- "The Prince" said, "Middle aged bachelor. Enjoys his privacy. Loves Cats. Very subtle insinuation."
- "All oiled up" asked, "This is all just really weak code for ‘he's gay' right?"
- "Banana Clip" quipped, "...speaking as a man with a staunch record of heterosexuality, one cat max is allowed before questions can be raised."
- "Wendy Kroy" nailed the attitude: "That final sentence is groundbreaking, in a way - that particular mix of contempt and pity for a career-minded unmarried person is generally reserved for use in articles about middle-aged women, not men (see: 90% of stories on Sotomayor and Napolitano)."
A second theme was contributed by those readers who questioned the derisive evaluation of Rouse's life. For example:
- "Jen Holloway Harris" had this come-back, "So, he's awesome?"
- "Wenceslaus" noted, "I just had a flash forward to what my life is going to be like when I'm 62. It doesn't sound that bad, actually."
- "Boobookitteh," responding to the mention of Rouse spending time playing with his cats, observes: "You say that like it's a bad thing."
I also appreciated a third theme, the comments (mostly from "aratuk") noting other points worth mentioning about Rouse other than his love of cats - for example, that he may be the first Asian-American White House chief of staff. (Personally, I probably read a half-dozen articles about Rouse before I found one that mentioned his degrees from the London School of Economics and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.)
The original Gawker article, together with the more thoughtful and enlightened comments, provide one of the best illustrations of where we are now with regard to consciousness-raising and the place of singles in society. The disdainful articles continue to be published, but they no longer go unchallenged.
Did you get a vague sense of familiarity when you read that snide remark about how the unmarried, childless Rouse having nothing to do, outside of work, but play with his cats? That's because we've seen this play before. Remember when Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell said about the new Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano:
"Janet's perfect for the job," he said. "Because for that job, you have to have no life. Janet has no family. Perfect. She can devote, literally, 19, 20 hours a day to it."
Happily, Rendell got called on his singlism, too - over and over again.
What I find most obnoxious about stories such as the Gawker one is what I think of as the "substitution hypothesis" - that single people substitute a love of cats for that spouse that they don't have. They are filling a void. I made fun of that way of thinking in two previous posts: "What's with the cat, and other questions about singles and their pets," and "Who's really nuts, 20/20 or the ‘crazy cat ladies'?"
[Note: Thanks to my sister Lisa for the heads-up about the Gawker story.]