Doing Sociology in Film: A Street Cat Named Bob

The sociological imagination as a "quality of mind" (Mills, 1959) has changed the way I experience film. I find myself drawn to themes in popular culture as fodder to connect individual experiences and wider social issues. A Street Cat Named Bob is no exception.  
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The film is based on the true story of James Bowen whose 'life was changed’ by a chance meeting with a ginger cat called Bob who he later calls his own. James' support worker supposes he's "not ready for a relationship" but she perhaps hadn't phrased this with a human-animal relationship in mind. Far from fulfilling the assumption that those living on the street will be unable to give their pet a good life, the film highlights that often an owner will go without food themselves in favour of feeding their pet. 

Bob is an integral part of James’ identity and redemption narrative, as similarly shown to be the case for homeless people in the research of Irvine (2013). The relationship with his cat offers a sense of responsibility, direction and purpose to his life which acts as a distraction from the traps often faced by those grappling with marginalised positions. Isolated from his family, James finds solace in the unconditional love of his cat who doesn’t judge him like his dad did. The relationship between James and Bob is affective and reciprocal in the sense of caring for someone and feeling cared for in return.


Why should this matter? Firstly, it shows that pets are not peripheral to our culture but are significant to our everyday interactions. Our families are being reconfigured to include pets. Blood relations and furriness matter less in defining this category. The discourse of unconditional love recognises the agency of at pets as shown by Bob ‘finding’ James and then ‘coming back’ to him, as well as, the benefit of pets residing in their incapacity to talk which renders them accepting of misdemeanors or strife. 

We are reminded of the potential policy impact of pets 
that psychologists have claimed is quantifiably the case for ameliorating our health and wellbeing. Yet, James’ story allows us to start to unpick the nuances of how relations with pets are negotiated. The film resonates with me, as not only are these factors part of my own pet-loving identity but they became apparent in my MA research findings which explored the significance of students’ experiences of living away from their pets.  

Despite its comical and sentimental undertones, the film doesn’t fail to direct us to the wider issues at stake; 
the meaningful relationships we engage in with pets and what this tells us about the way boundaries between human and non-human animals are created and transcended.

How do you relate to the human-animal bond represented in the film?

Comments

  1. Where I live, homelessness and pet ownership is a complex combination of concurrent issues. Some people are homeless because of their pets, in so far as they would rather stay on the streets than take a bed in a hostel that does not allow animals. There are some homeless people who have acquired companion animals deliberately as a method of protection, with pit-bull type terriers and mastiffs being the breeds most commonly seen on the streets. Their animals, like Bob in the film, are integral to their wellbeing and identity. As a silent (or at least wordless) onlooker, pets are non-judgmental, reliable, comforting and mutually dependent. Where homeless people feel rejected, powerless and down-trodden, companion animals provide them with a sense of self-worth, love and affection that is lacking in their interactions with humans. Whilst homeless people have to ask other humans for help, their pets 'ask' them. Watching these relationships between animal and human in these situations it strikes me that our furry friends will probably be the most important friends we ever make...

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  2. Diane C. Brown

    WOW! This is really awesome news. I'm really impressive.Far from fulfilling the assumption that those living on the street will be unable to give their pet a good life, the film highlights quite the contrary, that often an owner will go without food themselves in favor of feeding their pet.Where I live, homelessness and pet ownership is a complex combination of concurrent issues. Some people are homeless because of their pets, in so far as they would rather stay on the streets than take a bed in a hostel that does not allow animals. There are some homeless people who have acquired companion animals deliberately as a method of protection, with pit-bull type terriers and mastiffs being the breeds most commonly seen on the streets.
    http://onedaytop.com/pet/

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