Reversing the Numbness

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Funniest Thing in the World

Go ahead. Click the above image. Study it. Drink in the imagery. Immerse yourself in Gary Larson's farcical take on the ongoing saga of Dog vs. Cat in the modern world. Learn it. Live it. Fall to the ground in side-splitting hysterics.

Have you composed yourself yet? Caught your breath? Perhaps you had to jab yourself in the gut with a ball-point pen in order to stop yourself from laughing to avoid hyperventilation. Now you're left with only one question: Why? Why does this simple one-panel cartoon compel laughter from a place so deep within our very soul that only intense physical pain can snap us out of it?

I'll endeavor to answer.

Larson's famous "Cat Fud" cartoon taps into the very essence of "funny" on many complex levels. Its a veritable comic overload featuring elements of slapstick, whimsy, irony, and situational comedy, all while delivering a powerful commentary about the world we live in.

Lets deconstruct:

At first, the viewer thinks s/he is laughing simply because the dog is so hell-bent on ruining the cat's day that he concocts an elaborate "mouse trap" to ensnare his furry nemesis. This idea preys upon the built-in (but often mis-guided) notion driven into us since early childhood: that cats and dogs are sworn enemies. Saturday morning cartoons have played this card for years; of course, never quite as cleverly as this.

Next, we are left to wonder just what events preceded this? How many times had the dog's carefully laid plans been foiled by the crafty feline's uncanny ability to sense danger and outmaneuver his canine counterpart at every turn? After all, the dog is begging...literally begging, for this to work! This one time! Oh please, let me get the upper hand just this once! The complexities of their relationship are hinted at just enough to pique the viewer's imagination and encourage him or her to conjure up images of epic battles of wit between the pair. Tom & Jerry have nothing on these two!

By now, the viewer has gotten past the history of the players and is examining the ingenious plan hatched by the dog. Brilliant. Animals that think and act like people are always funny. Animals that can think and act like people and choose to use that intelligence for such a foolhardy venture? Hilarious!

This opens the door to further examination of the dog's apparent intellect. Hmmm. Displays complex problem solving ability and grasps abstract thought---very impressive indeed. But...wait for it...he mis-spelled food!!! Fud. Cat Fud. CAT FUD!!!!! This is so freaking funny, I had to stop writing and slam my hand in my desk drawer several times in order to stop myself from laughing to the point of hyperventilation.

You see, its funny because he was thisclose---but far enough off to allow you question his "intelligence." If he simply dropped an "o" and wrote "Fod," that's not funny. Not at all. The only way for him to mis-spell "Food" and make it work is to replace the "oo" with a "u." Nothing else would have sufficed. That's funny. Also note that the dog decided to use capital letters for the first letter of each word (perhaps to make the invitation appear more formal to the cat).

By the way, how did he manage to write it at all without opposable thumbs? Ahhh. Part of the riddle that may never be answered. I submit that he used his mouth, but an animal capable of the feats depicted could have devised any number of ways to accomplish the modest goal.

Now for the absolute best part; The coup de gras if you will. The part of this little gem that brings it all together and weaves the comic mayhem into a humor-crescendo of epic proportions:
Not only can the dog devise and execute this scheme...not only did he grossly mis-spell "Food" despite his higher learning abilities....but.........(wait for it)......

THE CAT CAN READ IT!!!! The cat can not only read it, but he understands it DESPITE THE SPELLING ERROR!!!

Excuse me while I punch myself in the face in order to stop the laughter which, unabated, will surely lead to hyperventilation. Just when the viewer thinks s/he is laughing at the dog's hi jinks, Larson manages a subconscious switcheroo...the cat is the true star of the show!

That is one smart cat, no doubt. And yet, he is about to fall for the lamest trick in the book!!! Oh, the irony!! The bitter, bitter irony!

Of course, the ending is open to interpretation. In my mind, the cat recognizes that something is amiss before climbing into the dryer in search of the ever-elusive but highly coveted "Cat Fud." To others, the story may end with the cat tumbling around and around while the dog howls with glee.

The artwork itself also plays an important role in conveying the comic genius. Note the cat's lazy approach and his carefree stance. The thick haunches and portly figure that suggest a life of leisure further mock the dog and his vain efforts to best his rival. Vain until today, perhaps.

The cat's laissez-faire look serves as an ideal counterpoint to the sense of desperation and tension depicted in the canine protagonist (or antagonist, depending on your point of view): his stiffened body crammed into the tight corner, holding his breath, careful not to cause even the slightest change in the air for fear that the cat will be alerted to his presence.

The cabinet door left ajar and the Acme brand "cat fud" open on top of the washing machine tells us that as his plan neared fruition, the dog simply could not contain his excitement and eschewed such minor details in favor of action!

I could go on and on. Larson's "Cat Fud" Far Side(c) is simply the Funniest Thing in the World. Its almost as if he sold his soul to the devil in order to create it. Perhaps we'll never be able to fully unlock the totality of its secrets. Perhaps that's for the best. After all, there is no telling what that kind of power in the wrong hands could lead to.

Oh, and the powerful commentary about the world we live in? I am not going to insult you by spelling it out. Its so obvious.

Besides, its meant to be laughed at, not analyzed.


SleekPelt said...

Zee, your brilliant observations about "Cat Fud" actually made the 'toon funnier for me! Honestly, I wouldn't have thought explaining humor could make it funnier, but it did!

I contend there are two reasons you think the cat wins in the end.

1. You own two cats: Droppo and Zoe. You're clearly biased.

2. Did Wile E. Coyote ever win? Never. Tom? Very rarely. Elmer Fudd? Never. The bottom line is, in toons, the antagonist is screwed from the start.

Bravo! Awesome first post! RtN will be a much better place with you here.

Fleming said...

I second the "awesome first post"

getto said...

I personally do not find any humor in it whatsoever.

Zee said...

I'm glad that my first post is being met with warm greetings. Its OK that Ghetto is not down with the Cat Fud. 2 out of 3 ain't bad!

SleekPelt said...

Zee, have you ever wondered just how far the trail of "Cat Fud" scribbles goes? I mean, since the dog had to hide stiffly beside the dryer in wait of his opportunity to pounce, there's no way he'd just hope that the cat would walk by the laundry room and see the enticing advertisement on the door, and then the floor, and then the dryer door....

No, the dog must have written the first "Cat Fud" someplace else in the house. Perhaps on the wall at the base of a window where the feline likes to sunbathe. And it's hard to tell how many of these false promises make up the chain that successfully led the cat to the moment of truth we see in this pane.

Also, have you ever wondered what the pets' owners thought when happening upon the writing? Especially if there's a much larger trail of it than we, the viewer, can see? Would it be a surprise, or just another chapter in the crazy love-hate relationship between two different and innately different species forced to live in the same home together?

How do I know that love is part of that equation? Simply put, if there was true malice between the pair, I believe the cat food would have been placed in the oven. Instead, Fido is just looking to take Leo for a warm ride he'll never forget.

getto said...

Personally, our cat can be upstairs, in the opposite end of the house, and he knows when I am adding more fud to his dish. Thus, I don't think there is a long trail of food.
And I was just playing. I agree with Sleek in that the post actually made an already funny toon funnier.

SleekPelt said...

Sorry, I didn't explain that well -- I don't mean an actual trail of fud, but instead more signs and arrows.

But you're right -- cats always know where the fud is.

Zee said...

Ghetto - I sensed that your tongue was in cheek...the internet doesn't convey the important dynamics required for real communication.

Bryan - All are brilliant observations/points/questions. It just goes further to show that my thoughts on this barely scratch the surface. I also get the vibe that the two animals are more "friendly rivals" than serious foes. Sort of like Itchy and Scratchy, and without the extreme violence.

Anonymous said...

This has been my FAVORITE comic since th efirst time I saw it about 20 years ago I think. I own a cat and whenever I run out of provisions for her I write "Cat Fud" on the list. Thanks for sharing your very funny analysis of this little gem.

Anonymous said...

Superb deconstruction of this classic cartoon.

But wait, there's more!

Let's say the cat falls for the trick and climbs into the dryer, and the dog slams the door shut. Now how is he going to turn on the dryer? Is there an accomplice? A step stool? What?

Ahh, the world of Larson.

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Anonymous said...

Looking at the illustration, it seems to me that the the dog spelt everything in capital letters, not just the first letter of each word.

Perhaps you were slamming your hand in the desk draw to much to notice?

Zee said...

After several years, I searched for this post to revisit the carefree days when I had time to "blog" about "stuff." Lo and behold! I was shocked---SHOCKED--to learn that an internet "troll" has launched a viscious and mean-spirited attack on me. True to form, this cold-blooded scoundrel did not have the courage to sign his or her username to the above attack.

Well, Mr. or Mrs. Anonymous, maybe I WAS slamming my hand in the desk too hard to notice. Now what????

See, I don't play. I'm for real.

Step off.

To any innocent bystander who happened by this and discovered this verbal carnage, I apologize. I knew the risk of leaving the rotting and skewered cyber-corpse of "anonymous" strewn about on this forum when I decided to respond with a literary A-Bomb, but I felt it was necessary in order to discourage "anonymous" from future unprovoked internet assaults.

Thank you.

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Starzy said...

omg, funniest thing I've read in a while. I left a note last night for my partner to feed the cat, and of course I spelled it FUD, in honour of this, my favourite cartoon. Then I found this. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Tom won more than very rarely. He won lots of times.

Anonymous said...

It is "coup de grĂ¢ce" ("mercy killing"). "Coup de gras" translates to "stroke of fat".

Matthew Bolton said...

My wife (of 22 years now) introduced me to Gary Larson when we met and I quickly devoured all of the books she had. This cartoon is a joint favourite and ever since then, we both use fud to refer to food - of any sort, not just the pet variety. Given that we're both real sticklers for correct spelling, this has caused strange looks from others who see it and know our spelling 'stickleriness', but don't kow the cartoon - which of course gives us a bit of a laugh at having the private joke.

Allan said...

This is my favorite Far Side comic of all time. I own a coffee mug with this panel, and its my favorite coffee mug.

However, I disagree with the characterization that the dog is the perpetual loser in this particular dog vs. cat feud. From the way I see it, the dog is the clever one. Note the anthropomorphic upright stance, while the cat stays in its animal four-legged posture. Additionally, there's the forethought and patience that goes into the prank. The cat's relaxed posture comes not from always escaping but from never learning its lesson, always being fooled. No, this is an anthropomorphized dog that regularly pulls pranks on the hapless cat. The dog is thinking "Oh, please, oh, please" not because it may be his one and only chance to pull off a prank but rather because it's his masterpiece, his ultimate prank in a long line of growing creativity in pranks.

Finally, there's the implied payoff. Which is funnier -- that the cat escapes? Or that the dog's plan succeeds, he slams the door on the cat, and turns on the dryer? The latter, clearly.