Garfield is Evil
Garfield needs no introduction. The lasagna loving, Mondays hating cat has been a stalwart in American comic editorials for over a half century. His merch grosses over a billion dollars annually and his likeness has been featured in several movies, a tv show and more recently, a restaurant serving pizzas and lasagnas in his likeness. Garfield is completely inoffensive by design. He’s the epitome of mediocrity. A cat that hates Mondays and loves lasagna? That describes practically every person that would find themselves perusing a Sunday comic section. In fact, Garfield comics weren’t really even designed to be funny. The creator Jim Davis even admits that the strip’s creation was, “a conscious effort to come up with a good, marketable character”. Garfield himself has about 3 main characteristics, he’s fat, lazy and acerbic; traits that have been milked to death in pretty much every Garfield 4 panel for the last 50 years.
But underneath Garfield’s boring exterior lies something a little more insidious. Recently the internet has fielded a number of Kafkaesque, Lovecraftian, Junji Ito inspired riffs on Garfield’s fluffy, orange coat, where Garfield is depicted as an all consuming being of cosmic horror. Other parodies include strips where Garfield is taken out completely as to make Jon look like a manic-depressive. What results is what a college freshman might imagine a comic by Nietzche to be like. Davis himself saw Garfield’s potential as a medium for existential crisis in a strip he wrote in 1989, “Garfield Alone”. My main question becomes: Why Garfield? Of all the things in the world ripe for parody Garfield seems like a strange almost random choice.
Part of it is that Garfield is simultaneously boring and familiar, it makes him a perfect blank canvas. In these depictions Garfield is literally a monster underneath and I tend to agree. There’s an underlying ugliness to Garfield. He is, in effect, a commercial product masquerading as art. He’s the embodiment of blatant commercialization. Garfield represents the corrupting influence that monetization has on art. This is a crisis that most artists grapple with. Where does the product begin and the art end? At the end of the day despite our best romanticization, art is made to be consumed. Ideally there’s a happy middle ground to be reached between producing a product and expression. But Garfield lies wholly on the commercial side and for that I think he is deserving of his monstrous depictions.
There’s a new Garfield themed restaurant/delivery service in Toronto and Dubai. You can get a nice helping of lasagna or a pizza vaguely in the shape of Garfield’s head while watching old Garfield cartoons for free. Who wouldn’t want that? And apparently the food sucks and it’s pretty expensive! Not a huge surprise. But despite this the restaurant has been super successful. To me it seems like some kind of brilliantly sick joke if you look at it through the lens of a piece of anti-capitalist satire. I get the feeling that it’s not a joke judging by their obnoxiously orange website featuring a decrepit Jim Davis giving the ol’ Garfield seal of approval. It makes the whole thing feel vaguely dystopian. All this makes me feel like all these memes are also somewhat anti-capitalist in nature (although probably not by design).
Despite Garfield's relatability, his main characteristics aren’t particularly desirable. He’s lazy, selfish and purposefully ignorant. Akin to the stupid memes your aunt posts on Facebook about how much she loves wine and hates her diet.
Garfield wasn’t the first of his kind and he certainly won’t be the last. The most recent example has been the Minions craze and if you look through pop culture history you can find a host of other examples. I can't tell if it's worse that Garfield knows what he is. It feels more honest. But it sure is sadder when people eat it up and he ends up making a billion dollars. Kinda horrifying when you think about it.