By Ben Magder
Photo Credit: Ben Magder
Meet Colin Grayson: a senior majoring in MCS. Colin began attending UMBC in 2019, and is expected to graduate this year. He is the current marketing assistant for CCBC's HVAC Department as part of the Johnson Controls grant. The job duties include creating marketing content, in addition to the promotion and recruitment of Baltimore County Public Schools students.
Colin is particularly interested in feline iconography. I had the privilege of taking a closer look at this topic in an interview. He talks about everything feline-related: from the connection between cats in his life and concepts from MCS, to cats as an institution, to some of his personal outlooks for the future of cats. This conversation highlighted the importance of media literacy, as well as some of the science and history behind the furry pop culture icons.
This interview contains answers that were edited for time and clarity.
Why did you choose to highlight this specific topic?
So I'll be honest, I am a cat person. I've owned cats all my life and I was always obsessed with them because I have a marketing background. I was obsessed with images and what they symbolize which we talked about in MCS 101. With that knowledge of liking cats and liking images I thought, “okay, what do cats symbolize in our culture?” About 14% of all content streamed on the Internet is feline related. It must have been CNN but yeah I looked it up and that means 14% out of 7 billion internet users at 600 million. So that's a lot considering the internet is no longer just a computer, it's now tablets, smartphones, and everything.
Can you take me through how feline iconography came into your life?
So I first got my first cat - her name is Mels - in 2008. And after that, for a while I was dating a girl and I thought dogs were better: that's what she told me. Eventually, we broke up and then I realized, “why should I long for a dog when a cat is so prevalent in our culture?” The Egyptians used to worship cats, the Chinese used to have the Siamese cats guard their temples, and so on and so forth. It's just amazing that this creature, the small circle with two triangles on top, controls about 14% of the world's population.
Are there other areas in your life where you see feline iconography or anywhere you didn’t expect to see it?
So this is the weirdest one, but when my friend sent me pictures of Paris, all around Paris there was a smiling cat: this little graffiti Cheshire cat. It's supposedly a statement about American and French relations post-9/11. This cat is supposed to represent French paranoia against Americans post 9/11. There's actually a documentary of it at the UMBC library, I've been meaning to check it out there.
So this is a cat image that is as old as us that, for some reason, there's a whole mural for it: it's all concentrated in France but Paris is the most frequent place.”
How would feline iconography benefit from an increase in general awareness? What if more people knew more about/paid attention to the concept of feline iconography?
Well the most obvious answer is obviously adopt more cats, but actually there was some psychology book I read where if you take an animal, it can sell and convince people to do things more than a human can. I believe the reason is because there's something a little bit better to look at. I feel (if) you take a cute puppy and or cute kitten you're like, “oh, I want to learn more about that.” You take a normal person you're like, “oh he's just a guy”.
So, if you wanted to, you can have a sports team; just use a cat as the mascot and people will go nuts over the Detroit Lions, Detroit Tigers, Nashville Predators… there's even branches of banking that have their own mascots. So it can be mostly any animal in place of a human, right? They just automatically get the attention of everybody.
What are some ways that people interested can get involved with feline iconography?
The way I started was I adopted a cat. You can go to a museum and you'll see plenty of cats. The most direct way is just simply go on the street here at Arbutus: you would be amazed at how many stray cats there are just running around. You can even go to a grocery store and you can look at some of the brands: frosted flakes and see feline iconography. But I believe the best way is to get out: just don't stay at your house and just look at the wall. You have to get out and you'll notice some patterns in life. The best way to learn is by observing.
For an additional online resource, looking at certain images or something like that. I don't have a specific source; I would say maybe TikTok or YouTube. But, for a physical source - I'll have to look up the title - there was this book I read from the 1950s : it was on cats in their early development and the development into big cats, and ruling society. Oddly enough, I found it in a bookstore in Cumberland. I opened it up, and then right at the first page I turned to, there was an adoption paper from the 1950s.
They also used to say cats love to eat grass, which is true: you see cats eating plants all the time. The theory behind that is that early feline predators would see their prey in grass and think if it's good for them it's good for me. Since cats are carnivores, it was not true.
How would you respond to criticisms of feline iconography?
Out of all the topics, if you're getting upset about iconography, specifically pet iconography - especially in America, where we spend on average $1 billion a year on the pet industry for all kinds of pets, cats around 6 million dollars… I don't know, I would say I've been called worse things and I'll probably be called worse things, so it is what it is.