Animality, Domesticity and Enterprise in My Cat From Hell

Wednesday 1 February
Room 204, Fred Wheeler Building, King Alfred Campus, University of Winchester, Sparkford Road, Winchester, Hampshire SO22 4NR

​Talk by Professor Diane Negra, University College Dublin

In this talk I analyze a reality tv series for the way it reflects two coinciding phenomena: the elevation of animals to a new domestic status in which their needs and interests demand significant time, care and money and the rise of male-fronted instructional lifestyle television. The commercial dimensions of what has been characterized as “America’s hyper-profitable obsession with its dogs and cats” (Hartwell, “Petsmart’s Goldmine”) are apparent in dramatic sales rises of premium pet food, the dramatic growth of pet care and grooming industries and the expansion of care animals in the public sphere. Considering the ways in which we are now called upon to cultivate and monitor the emotional wellbeing of our pets and to take part in an animal-centered economy on their behalf, I turn to the example of Animal Planet’s My Cat From Hell (2011-). This series emphatically re-positions cat care and empathy as congruent with masculinity while demonstrating, as I will argue, the relevance of hipster entrepreneurialism to the vastly expanded pet economy.

A program like My Cat From Hell falls into the capacious category of “lifestyle television” enumerated by Laurie Ouellette. She notes that “The lifestyling of television has occurred alongside a rising impulse to attach celebrity to occupations that have not historically been part of the entertainment complex” (Ouellette, Lifestyle TV, 41). In this series and others we may take note of instructional lifestyle television’s foregrounding of an expert (here animal behaviourist Jackson Galaxy) whose prowess may not have qualified for recognition in previous eras. Alongside somewhat comparable figures such as Guy Fieri of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, Galaxy performs a new mode of masculinity that staves off the threat of dispossession by monetizing skills that previously had little to no marketplace value. These aging hipsters present as former slackers reconciling themselves to the economic imperatives of the market economy at midlife.

Diane Negra is Professor of Film Studies and Screen Culture and Head of Film Studies at University College Dublin. A member of the Royal Irish Academy, she is the author, editor or co-editor of ten books including Interrogating Postfeminism: Gender and the Politics of Popular Culture (2007), What a Girl Wants?: Fantasizing the Reclamation of Self in Postfeminism (2008), Gendering the Recession: Media and Culture in an Age of Austerity (2014), Extreme Weather and Global Media (2015) and The Aesthetics and Affects of Cuteness (2016). Her work in media, gender and cultural studies has been widely influential and recognized with a range of international research awards and fellowships. She currently serves as Co-Editor-in- Chief of Television and New Media (SAGE).

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