Author Jonathan Franzen, who once considered adopting an Iraqi war orphan for research purposes and “has never been in love with a black woman,” has said a lot of controversial things over the years. Recently, I was reading a new Guardian interview — about the environmental threat to birds, yadda yadda — and Franzen did something very out of character: He said something I respected.
“I’ve met cats I like,” Franzen said. (!!!)
While this might not be such an incendiary statement on its own, one has to consider the context. Jonathan Franzen is the unofficial ambassador for bird people everywhere. He’s what Gwyneth Paltrow is to wellness aficionados, or what Ayn Rand is to libertarians. And with many bird species on the verge of extinction, bird people have long focused on cats — and by extension, cat people — as public enemy number one. In the U.S., 2.4 billon birds a year are killed by outdoor cats, which has led to court battles and flared tempers among advocates of both groups.
Franzen goes on to add the following suggestion, which even to a cat person like me, seems reasonably fair and measured:
“It seems like our best shot is to try to continue education efforts about the hazards to your cat by having them outside and to publicize the scale of killing by outdoor cats… I fear the latter thing is effective in only a minority of cat owners.”
Maybe we truly can find common ground with people we disagree with. To be honest, I’ve met birds I like. For example: the hot duck, who I like very much.
Brimming with good will, I continued to read the piece to see what Franzen had to say about my new bird of choice, the duck. Surely he must love ducks, because, after all, they are birds, and Jonathan Franzen really loves birds.
“Duck is the one thing I don’t eat because they are really badly behaved,” Franzen continued (because true environmental activists only eat well-behaved meat). “You shouldn’t be too sentimental about ducks.”
Oh … never mind. Screw Jonathan Franzen.