Thursday, September 17, 2009


Our correspondents direct us to Socks the Cat Rocks the Hill, an unpublished and subsequently extirpated video game written in 1993. While the frustrated prospect of seeing "caricatures... of George H.W. Bush and Richard Nixon" is galling, what I find really interesting is the cult of Socks the Cat that apparently swept the nation between 1992 and 1995/6.

All presidents have pets, and all presidents' pets are popular, but Socks was something else. Do you know whether Ronald Reagan had a pet? Do you know what George Bush Sr.'s cocker spaniel was named? Do you care? The dog, evidently named Millie, was "featured in an episode of Murphy Brown," (and what an exciting episode that must have been) but otherwise minded her own business.

But for the first few years of Bill Clinton's presidency, it seemed like the only facts anybody knew about him were that he could play the saxophone and that he had a pet cat. Of course, my perspective is skewed from being 8 at the time, and more interested in cats than health insurance reform -- if they could only see me now -- but Wikipedia cannot lie: Socks's cultural references page is more than twice as long as any other pet's.

Even more amusing than the mere fact of a celebrity cat is how quickly he washed up. We can see the Socks the Cat Fan Club on Geocities (a double relic), which was abandoned in 1997, fully twelve years before Socks died in obscurity, and just a few days into Bill Clinton's second term. The Clintons, no doubt aware that the bloom was off the rose, got a puppy shortly afterward, but the magic was gone.

Some might say that people forgot about Socks in Clinton's second term because he provided us with a much more prurient interest, and I'm sure there's something to that. As a culture, we don't usually know much about new presidents, so we tend to seize the most accessible handles, be they saxophones, or a goofy tendency toward mispronunciation, or blackness, and when actual stuff happens, we're quick to drop our earlier preoccupations.

On the other hand, saying that Clinton's sex scandal forced Socks out of the public eye because it was more interesting rather misses the point, and the mystery too: Socks was never interesting at all; he was just an ordinary cat.


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