Indulge me for a moment here, because I’ve been struggling with a new nemesis lately. (The geese have all flown south by now, and so I can focus my ire elsewhere).
Maybe you, like I, have young children, and you’re already familiar with this character.
If you’re luckier than I, maybe you’re not. This is Pete the Cat, star of over 40 children’s books, a character who “never loses his cool”, per Wikipedia.
This is a charitable reading of this dead-eyed cipher’s way of life.
Take, for instance, his debut story, “I Love My White Shoes”. You can watch the video here, if you’d like to imagine what echoes through my head while I try to sleep.
Pete has a new pair of white shoes, which he loves. However, he steps in a pile of strawberries, which stain them red. Does this cause him concern? No.
“He keeps walking along and singing his song”.
This process repeats with a pile of blueberries, a pile of mud, and so on. He keeps staining his shoes, but his emotional needle does not budge. He just keeps walking along and singing his song, bearing the stains of his negligent careening through life.
Never once does it occur to this cat to just look where the hell he’s going.
“You know, it’s teaching kids about not getting upset about little things”, you say. “Don’t you think that’s a good lesson?”
No. No it is not. Pete has not come to teach you a lesson. Pete has not come to do anything. Pete is an unstoppable force of pure indifference, a glacier a mile thick of pure insouciance. Pete the Cat has killed a man while driving. He was still alive, but Pete never called for help. He could’ve been saved, but Pete did nothing. Pete felt nothing.
“Surely you’re cherry-picking, though,” you say. “Surely the other stories aren’t all like this.”
Actually... they are. Another “favorite” around our house is “Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons”. In this classic, the titular hero has a shirt with four big, round, groovy buttons. One by one, the buttons pop off. Does this affect his emotional state? Of course not. He just blithely wanders on, eventually losing all four buttons but remaining completely unaffected.
They’re pretty much all like this. Something bad happens, or something good happens, but Pete remains disconnected from reality, coasting along free of emotion or responsibility or culpability. My kid loves him. All the kids at daycare love him. I’m like 45% convinced he’s giving them coded messages to kill me in my sleep, and that’s fine. At least I’ll get to sleep. I digress.
“You know, this is still better than, like, Caillou or something,” you say.
Stop that. Stop trying to defend him. You’re not understanding the problem.
You see, let’s pretend Caillou was a football coach. We know Caillou, right? Whiny little Canadian shit? He sucks. Just look at him. I hate him. Everybody hates him.
If he were a football coach, though, he wouldn’t be a problem, because again, he just sucks. Plenty of coaches suck every year. Maybe he’d get fired, or maybe he’d muddle around, eventually washing up somewhere like [extremely hypothetical voice] Texas Tech and then Cincinnati. Either way, he’s a non-factor. You don’t like him, he’s no good, but he’s not causing major problems.
But then there’s Pete. You can’t avoid Pete. Maybe you forget about him occasionally, but he’s still there, year after year. Good things are happening to him. Bad things are happening to him. Nothing changes for him.
Go 12-2? It’s all good.
Go 7-6 and lose the TaxSlayer Bowl? It’s all good.
Imagine this coach. Dead-eyed. Expressionless. Utterly devoid of consequence, emotion, joy, pain, feeling.
Imagine if this coach existed.
Imagine what would happen if this coach were allowed to keep walking along and singing his song.
Imagine how people could end up getting hurt.
You’d never feel any remorse, would you, Pete?