THE MILLION DOLLAR CAT
Dumbcat looked dumb. Her face was disfigured in this adorable way that just made everyone who saw her crunch their face in pity and say, “Awwww!” Dumbcat’s owner, a guy who went by the name of NeedMoreCoffee_81, got Dumbcat when she was just a kitten. He thought that Dumbcat would eventually grow into something other than a dumb looking cat. But he was wrong. As Dumbcat grew, her face only looked increasingly dumb. Her head tilted at a 20 degree angle that made her always appear confused; her eyes got more and more crossed until they looked at each other, mise en abyme; her tongue started to stick out and hang to the left, the way you see it on cartoon characters that are supposed to be drunk or unconscious.
NeedMoreCoffee_81 began taking cell phone photos of Dumbcat and posting them on internet forums like Reddatt and 5Chon to much attention. “That cat looks so dumb lol” said one user, prompting another to respond, “Dumbcat is dumb!” This is how Dumbcat got her name. Over time, the internet began to fill with images of Dumbcat. A popular meme involved Dumbcat looking at her food dish, looking quite dumb. People wrote various allegorical references to their own lives in Impact font across the top of this photo and sent them to their friends. Doctored photos of Dumbcat in various improbable scenarios also began to proliferate. By year’s end, few people were unscathed by Dumbcat’s lingering presence. Your grandmother had heard of Dumbcat by then, and was probably being regularly assaulted by commercials of Dumbcat hawking everything from dishwashing liquid to secure safes. On December 31, every mall kiosk in America was seeing full-color 12 month calendars of Dumbcat flying off shelves in preparation for another year of Dumbcat carpet-bombing.
Within a year of the first Dumbcat photo being posted online, NeedMoreCoffee_81 was swimming in money. Invitations for marketing opportunities flooded into his inbox, and he eventually had to enlist a lawyer and an agent to handle all the requests for Dumbcat licensing opportunities. His financial advisor estimated that Dumbcat was worth more than $10MM, and suggested that NeedMoreCoffee_81 hire a fulltime bodyguard for Dumbcat. “You can’t risk Dumbcat getting maimed or injured,” said the advisor. “You need to milk this cat for all she’s worth while she’s alive and relevant.”
One day, NeedMoreCoffee_81 received a certified letter in the mail from a world authority on feline neurosurgery. The letter said that Dumbcat’s comical appearance was most likely caused by a brain tumor whose expansion within Dumbcat’s cranium triggered her trademark facial expressions. It also stated that while the tumor itself was probably benign, Dumbcat was likely experiencing significant pain and blurred vision from her face always being contorted. The surgeon offered to perform corrective surgery for free, claiming that the probability of success would be in the 99% range. NeedMoreCoffee_81 was a responsible pet owner, and really did want to get the surgery, but the problem was that he was in the process of building a 24 bedroom mansion with Dumbcat money, so… it was kind of important that Dumbcat continue to look dumb. The letter rested uneasily on NeedMoreCoffee_81’s desk for a week before he finally crumpled it up and tossed it into the trash can.
A month later, NeedMoreCoffee_81 was surfing online and came across a thread where the famous kitty neurosurgeon was publicly decrying NeedMoreCoffee_81, challenging him to “do the right thing” and have Dumbcat taken in for surgery. This act sparked a massive online debate about what should happen to Dumbcat. Many people called out her owner as an animal abuser and amoral profiteer who was ruthlessly exploiting Dumbcat’s medical condition for wealth. The cyberjustice group Anonymous threatened to dump dozens of pages of dirt on NeedMoreCoffee_81– including his real name and employer– onto the open web if Dumbcat was not surrendered immediately. A group of armed vigilantes promised that they would break into NeedMoreCoffee_81’s house and take Dumbcat by force if necessary. But for every one of these Social Justice Warriors seeking comeuppance, there was someone who equally intensely thought that Dumbcat was just a cute cat, and that everyone should just lighten the fuck up and enjoy her dumb face and quit getting so damn worked up over it. “It’s JUST a cat,” one person remarked, though this comment alone started a 1,500 message flame war on Reddatt.
NeedMoreCoffee_81 was not sure what to do. On one hand, the money was amazing and another couple years like the last one would mean he’d never have to work again. On the other hand, he knew that Dumbcat was suffering needlessly. It was a tough decision. He looked to Dumbcat, desperate for guidance. But Dumbcat was dumb and did not understand the debate. “MEOWRRR?” she said, before falling over.
Finally, NeedMoreCoffee_81 hit upon a solution that he thought would make everyone happy. He announced that the remaining assortment of merchandise in the Dumbcat store would be autographed by Dumbcat (he’d tape a conte crayon to her paw and have her walk on all paraphernalia bearing her likeness), and he would sell it all off to the highest bidders. After that point, no more Dumbcat merchandise would ever be sold. Then he announced that he would be taking Dumbcat in for brain surgery, and that the procedure would be filmed and presented live on Pay-Per-View for the low rate of $99. And, he said, 10% of all proceeds from these products would go to Feline Neurosurgeons Without Borders. Also, he promised that the HD kitty neurosurgery special would feature closeup shots of Dumbcat’s face morphing from looking completely stupid to looking quite normal as the tumor deflated. Who wouldn’t want to see that?
Unfortunately, the stunt didn’t quite work out as planned. Rather than pleasing everyone, it managed to annoy everyone; the SJWs saw this as a final act of unrepentant exploitation, and the true-blue Dumbcat fans saw it as a concession to the terrorist threats of the opposition. Rather than sooth the tensions, NeedMoreCoffee_81’s announcement fanned the flames of the debate, pitting husbands against wives, brothers against sisters, parents against children, and congressmen against their constituents. Bloody fights broke out in bars after questions of allegiances were posed by patrons to other patrons. College campuses across America became scenes of violent protests as angry activists barricaded themselves in buildings and took hostages and organized hunger strikes in support of Dumbcat-related demands. Soon, it became a big enough issue that the President had to appear on TV, wearily asking for calm as the nation sought solutions to “the Dumbcat debate.”
It came upon us unexpectedly then– we, a nation of ruddy-faced and bellicose internet warriors– that we would awaken to a curious image stuffed into our inboxes and social media feeds: a handsome Golden Retriever wearing a black Brooks Brothers business suit, staring over the top of narrow-framed accountant glasses, a shiny silver vape stick dangling from its snout. The words “WAT DA FUQ” appeared in large-sized Impact font across its auburn belly. Maybe that was what we all needed to see; by the end of the week, the image, dubbed DapperDog, was shared over 75 million times, and hundreds of clever iterations of it spread across social media. Within 2 weeks, mall kiosks were filled with full-color DapperDog 8.5 month calendars that started in mid-April, when the sharp-looking canine made his first appearance. At that point, Dumbcat may as well have never existed. Even the famous kitty surgeon who seemed so concerned about Dumbcat’s fate seemed to disappear off the face of the earth, and wouldn’t return NeedMoreCoffee_81’s calls or emails anymore. This was unfortunate, because as it turned out, Dumbcat’s tumor was indeed cancerous. Within a month of DappperDog’s saturation campaign, her life was soon extinguished by the very condition that had brought her her fame in the first place.
NeedMoreCoffee_81 took a photo of the deceased cat (her exposed tongue was now ironically poignant) and posted it online along with the heartbreaking word “Deadcat.” But like Dumbcat herself, NeedMoreCoffee_81’s final post was buried within minutes and promptly forgotten.