Robert Price

Saturday, May 24 2014 04:00 PM

ROBERT PRICE: A bad day becomes remarkably unifying

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    Robert Price is The Californian's executive editor. Email him at rprice@bakersfield.com.

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    By Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

    Tara the cat relaxes after throwing out the first pitch of the Blaze baseball game at Sam Lynn Ballpark Tuesday night in Bakersfield.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Four-year-old Jeremy sits with his parents Roger and Erica Triantafilo and his cat Tara Wednesday morning. The cat became a hero when a dog attacked Jeremy in his front yard on Eagle Vista Drive in Bakersfield and Tara came out and chased the dog away. Jeremy needed stitches for severe bites to his leg and his mother also needed medical aid from bites she sustained while protecting her son. A video of the incident has gone viral, creating national media attention.

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By Robert Price

And now comes the blowback. From social media: How dare that Bakersfield family with the now-famous cat attempt to exploit a dog bite? From online story commenting: What gall to try to monetize 10 fresh stitches in a child's leg. And now from The Washington Post: Everything -- even the brutal, on-camera mauling of your child! -- doubles as a chance for fame and profit.

The consensus among the nay-sayers is that the Triantafilo family is capitalizing on pain and suffering. Their son's pain and suffering.

Well, they're capitalizing, all right. They're making the most of a singularly extraordinary moment in their lives. I have yet to witness the exploited child conveying anything but wonder and delight over the whole thing, and he has had plenty of chances to do so, including on national TV.

The family's cat is a celebrity. Why stop taking bows if the crowd refuses to stop cheering?

The speed and manner in which this story has played out bothers some, I guess. Too much cat, with too much marketing savvy in evidence. Well, blame the constant and instant cultural presence of YouTube, Facebook and other current-day media, not a family that managed to turn a bad day into something remarkably unifying.

To recap: On May 13, the neighbors' dog gets loose and ambushes 4-year-old Jeremy, seizing his leg and dragging him down the family's driveway. Suddenly, a cat previously assumed to be docile and disinclined toward acts of valor, performs a bullet-quick, flying headbutt on said dog, freeing the boy. Villain dog runs away, chased to the property line by super cat, the boy gets stitches and life returns to relative normalcy -- until dad comes home and looks at the remarkably clear, multi-camera home security video. He expertly edits it into a minute-long saga and on May 14, posts it on YouTube. On May 15, the family is interviewed live on the "Today" show. By May 16, the video's number of views is well into the tens of millions.

Sort of breathtaking when you think about it.

In between, the family creates a Facebook page for Tara and hires an attorney to protect their "brand" with an eye toward stocking Jeremy's college fund. Meanwhile, actor Ryan Gosling is spotted in public wearing a Tara the Cat T-shirt and a photoshopped Jay Z appears online, wishing he'd had "this cat" with him in that New York elevator the night his sister-in-law Solange went ballistic on him.

At this point we have what is called a meme, a viral sensation that's copied, shared, morphed and shared again across the Internet -- for days, weeks, even months. We also have a consumable product.

I ought to know. I have succumbed. 

When the free world worked itself into a frenzy over the UC Davis pepper spray incident of 2011, entrepreneurs cashed in. A meme was born. A month later I bought my daughter, a student at Davis, a canvas tote depicting the campus police officer at the center of the controversy spraying not an orange respiratory irritant but a floral stream of pastel psychedelia reminiscent of "Yellow Submarine." I hadn't seen her giggle on Christmas morning since she was 12.

Right now, someone, somewhere, is selling a canvas tote depicting a flying, red-cape-wearing Tara. If not, wait a few minutes.

Why shouldn't it be the Triantafilo family? Most of us have already seen and marveled at the original video -- several times, in many cases -- and at no charge. Once it's out, the Triantafilo family can never completely reel it back in. So what's left to sell? Tokens of our mutual amazement -- merchandise! The sense of belonging that wearable membership can provide. Don't underestimate the power of that attraction.

Just don't give the Triantafilo family any grief for enthusiastically participating, if they so choose. Their cat. Their boy. Their insurance deductible.

You want a piece of this action? Create your own meme. The supply is infinite.

Email Executive Editor Robert Price at rprice@bakersfield.com. His column appears here on Sundays; the views expressed are his own.

 

 

 

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