Only drawn that way: ethnic and racial difference in Macskafogó/Cat City (1986) and Macskafogó 2/Cat City 2 (2007)

Gergely, Gabor (2013) Only drawn that way: ethnic and racial difference in Macskafogó/Cat City (1986) and Macskafogó 2/Cat City 2 (2007). In: Ethnicity, Race and Nationalism in European Media and Film: Rights, Responsibilities, Representations – International Conference, 23-25 May, 2013., University of Manchester.

Only drawn that way: ethnic and racial difference in Macskafogó/Cat City (1986) and Macskafogó 2/Cat City 2 (2007)
GG Cat City paper.pdf - Whole Document

Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Paper)
Item Status:Live Archive


The 1986 animated feature Macskafogó/Cat City (Neppi and Ternovszky, 1986) is a common reference point for a whole generation of Hungarians now in their 30s and 40s. I am a member of that generation. I saw the film on its release in the cinema, and since then, many times on VHS, DVD and more recently on YouTube and torrent download. I can quote it at length, although this is a feat that is by no means unique. However, I must confess that for a long time I have been troubled by the film. I have grown sick of protesting its innocence and claiming that, like an aged relative with outdated views, it’s not racist, it just doesn’t know better.
The shocked gasps of Western viewers when they hear the line ‘that’s the last time I deal with blacks’ shocked me into the realization that no matter the context, this line is beyond the pale. (I would like to tell you that it drew a shocked gasp from me when I first heard it. I was 7. It didn’t.) Never mind that it’s a line spoken by Mr Teufel, the villain, that it’s supposed to illustrate his villainy, that it refers to a black cat, this line should not be defended. Rather, it should be considered dispassionately, for it is evidence that this old generational favourite has an ugly face, and it suggests uncomfortable truths about Hungarian attitudes to race and ethnicity.ii
This paper was born out of this need to revisit the film with a critical eye. It argues that Cat City gives evidence of racist and anti-Semitic reflexes in Hungarian popular discourse of the 1980s. It further contends that the same reflexes can be seen at work two decades on, when the sequel was released, and that it is the sequel that unlocks the reading that exposes these disturbing reflexes. It is important to note at this point, however, that it is not the contention of this paper that the film or its sequel was made with any racist or anti-Semitic intent.
First I sketch the political, economic and cultural contexts in which the films were made. I go on to give a brief outline of their respective plots. I then explain how the first film can be seen to be informed by its political context in its depiction of mouse society as a desirable (or at least preferable) social order to cat society. I contend that the films make use of crude national and racial stereotypes. I go on to suggest that Cat City and its sequel paint the nightmare vision of nemzethalál, or death of the nation, a recurring theme in Hungarian nationalist thinking. I argue that when taken together, the two films cohere to form a narrative about the threat posed to the body of the nation by the cats. In this reading the mice are a people united in battle against the cats, parasitic and nationless servants of Satan.

Keywords:Hungary, Animated Film, Cats and Mice, Anti-Semitism, National Cinema
Subjects:P Mass Communications and Documentation > P303 Film studies
Divisions:College of Arts > Lincoln School of Film & Media > Lincoln School of Film & Media (Film)
ID Code:29929
Deposited On:20 Oct 2018 22:19

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