This all comes on top of predictable outrage from cat lovers themselves, who seem to suffer from some sort of debilitating lack of humor caused by overexposure to kitty litter.

Ground Zero archive

     
Satire's bite

Animal lovers aren't laughing at kitty-contorting Web spoof

By Joe Salkowski
Tribune Media Services
Mon Feb 19 01:28:10 2001

Have you ever wanted a cat but worried that they're just too darned cuddly?

They sure are graceful, and their little round faces are cute as the dickens. But wouldn't they be even more appealing if they were shaped like a cube?

Such is the twisted dream behind bonsaikitten.com, a popular Web site that claims to have revived the lost art of kitten modification. It says that with just a jar, a few household tools and the instructions listed on the site, you can mold a standard shelter-grade tabby into any number of aesthetically pleasing shapes.

It's a joke, of course a straight-faced spoof designed to prey on gullible cat lovers. But there are plenty of people who aren't laughing, including a few wayward agents from the FBI.

The site's principal creators, a pair of grad students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, say they've been targeted by a grand jury subpoena demanding information about bonsaikitten.com on behalf of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I can't imagine what crime they might be investigating, but it must be more important than tracking down all those international terrorists and child pornographers the agency is supposed to be prosecuting.

The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has launched its own investigation into the site. And the Humane society has pitched a virtual fit, lobbying service providers to pull bonsaikitten.com off the Web and posting an alert that complains the site is among "the rising number of Web sites that promote, glamorize or trivialize cruelty to animals."

This all comes on top of predictable outrage from cat lovers themselves, who seem to suffer from some sort of debilitating lack of humor caused by overexposure to kitty litter. Bonsaikitten.com has been targeted by tens of thousands of angry e-mail messages and discussion group posts, including many from people who seem to believe it's all real.

"I originally expected far more people to understand the satire immediately," said one of the site's creators, who goes by the pseudonym Dr. Michael Wong Chang. "From our incoming mail, it seems far fewer than 1 percent of respondents understand."

It's hard to see how they missed the joke. The site's front page claims the art of cramming kittens into containers to permanently alter the shape of their bodies was inspired by the bonsai tree.

"Just as a topiary gardener produces bushes that take the forms of animals or any other thing, you no longer need be satisfied with a housepet having the same mundane shape as all other members of its species," it says.

Indeed, the site talks of kittens shaped like teapots, parallelograms, stars, Nutella jars and other such nonsense. There aren't any pictures of such creatures, of course hint, hint, kitty lovers. But there are a few snapshots of kittens cuddled up in mason jars, the sort that might show up in a cat lovers' calendar if they weren't now being evaluated as possible evidence of animal cruelty.

Make no mistake: Animal abuse is serious business. But this Web site isn't, and anyone who actually visits it federal agents included should realize it's meant in jest.

"A vast proportion of viewers (or people who refuse to even look at the site before condemning it, as the case may be) refuse to cease being offended even when the message of the site is explained to them in detail," Dr. Chang said in an e-mail interview.

After reading Dr. Chang's explanation, I'm not sure I really get it, either. Something about "double standards in the media and public perception," he said. Hmm. Maybe that's why I never got into MIT.

But bonsaikitten.com makes me laugh, which probably reveals that I'm a dog person. It also reminds me of one of the Internet's principal benefits: bringing all sorts of people together, whether they like it or not.

Sure, the Net lets kitty lovers swap stories and revel in their mutual passion. But it also forces them to share space with all sorts of people they'd never meet in real life like smart aleck grad students from MIT.

Those simple-hearted folks might have been happier if they'd never encountered the kind of people who would make a joke out of the idea of abusing kittens. But now, at least they've got a little better idea of what the real world is actually like.

After all, nobody wants to live their life isolated in a glass jar.


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