British goofball Niall Ferguson has again thrust his Oxfords into his maw, this time comparing Barack Obama to the venerable cartoon character Felix the Cat. You see, inscribed Ferguson in the Financial Times, “Felix was not only black. He was also very, very lucky. And that pretty much sums up the 44th president of the US[.]“
Ferguson had previously brought shame upon all his generations by gabbling such atavistic British colonial nonsense as “those who are drawn to ‘the Other’ may be atypical in their sexual predilections,” and “when a Chinese woman marries a European man, the chances are relatively high that only the first child they conceive will be viable.” These profundities appeared in a tome titled War of the World, which supplemented Ferguson’s role as host of a series on 20th Century history broadcast on Britain’s Channel 4.
Across the great water there in England, 21st Century Britons are being driven mad by the ubiquity of this throwback, who is not only allowed to run loose on television and scribble in the Times, but is also spouting gibberish on the BBC.
Ferguson, complained Priamvada Gopal in the Guardian, is engaged in the “aggressive rewriting of history, driven by the messianic fantasies of the America right”; “[o]nly the desire to recover some imaginary good from the tragedy that was empire,” she concludes, “can explain the elevation of th[is] neoconservative ideologue to chief imperial historian.”
Beats me why Ferguson didn’t further extend the comparison, to grouse that both Felix and Obama are “socialists.”
In the 1936 cartoon featured below, Felix (Obama) cheerily dispenses gold to any old penurious miscreant who wanders in off the street (we the people), gold provided by a free-laying goose (the federal treasury), a creature foully kidnapped by mendacious pirates (Wall Street), who chortle: “we take what we wants, and we wants what we take.” After a titanic battle, Felix Obama—who is revealed to be more smart than lucky—cleverly uses the pirate ship to shower even more gold upon the people than they had previously received. ; )
After tracking Felix for an hour across the tubes, I am tempted to conclude that Ferguson’s blithe dismissal of both the cat and the president springs from jealousy. For Felix, like Obama, seems to be regarded with affection all around the world. Felix was the first giant balloon ever marched down 34th Street in a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade; the prospect of a giant Ferguson balloon swaying down one’s street, well, that is something to haunt one’s nightmares. There are people out there constructing Felix fetishes of Legos: it is hard to imagine anyone setting out to pay similar homage to Ferguson. I myself wear a Felix the Cat watch, and must confess that the idea of sporting a Niall Ferguson watch has never creased my cerebrum. In Singapore people flock to a museum housing images of Felix; despite Ferguson’s passionate attachment to his nation’s former colonial bigfooting in such states as Singapore, I can find no record of any edifice there, or even nook, cranny, or cobweb in any edifice, that is devoted to him.
The tubes is even home to a disturbing Felix-like being who hops as a hologram atop an iPhone. I am confident that anyone who encountered a ghostly Ferguson prancing and leaping atop a small electronic device would seek medical attention immediately.
Ferguson concludes his Felix/Obama comparison with a nasty little shot:
“Even Felix the Cat’s luck ran out during the Depression. His creator Pat Sullivan drank himself to death in 1933, baffled that audiences now preferred mice like Mickey and Jerry. President Obama should take note.”
There are several problems with this guff. First, and as someone who lost two family members to alcohol, I can tell you, Mr. Ferguson, that people who drink themselves to death rarely do so for a single reason.
Second, it is Otto Messmer who is generally created with creating Felix, not Sullivan.
Third, Felix’ fading popularity was due to the transition to sound. While Mickey was born a talker, Felix had previously been a silent cat. Audiences were displeased with the sounds that came out of his mouth: they had imagined those sounds differently. Theatergoers were no more prepared to accept Felix’ “real” voice than they were the voices of such silent luminaries as John Gilbert and Charlie Chaplin, stars that, like Felix, also dimmed with the advent of sound.
Fourth, while the original Felix franchise was indeed shut down in 1930, the resilient feline was born again in 1936, as the confiscatory Depression-era cartoon embedded above demonstrates. And, as that cartoon again demonstrates, Felix embodied the best of Depression-era Rooseveltian impulses.
And Felix wasn’t done. For he sprang once more to life in 1953 . . . and has never really gone away since. Ferguson apparently forgot that cats have nine lives. As do cats like Barack Obama.