Is Garfield male or female?

Garfield
GarfieldPHOTO: PAWS INC

WASHINGTON• Garfield is lazy; Garfield is a cat; Garfield likes lasagna.

Is there really much more to say about Garfield? The character is not complicated. Since the comic debuted in 1978, the cat's core qualities have shifted less than the mostly immobile feline himself.

But this is 2017 - a time of Internet wars, social conundrums and claims to competing evidence about Garfield's gender identity.

Wikipedia had to put Garfield's page on lockdown a week ago after a 60-hour editing war in which the character's listed gender vacillated back and forth indeterminately like a cartoon version of Schrodinger's cat: male one minute; not the next. "He may have been a boy in 1981, but he's not now," one editor argued.

The debate has spilled into the broader Internet, where a writer complained of "cultural marxists" bent on "turning one of pop culture's most iconic men into a gender fluid abomination".

It all started with a comment from Garfield's creator, Jim Davis, made two years ago in an interview with Mental Floss - titled innocuously 20 Things You Might Not Know About Garfield. Between the site's plugs for Garfield DVDs, Davis revealed a few harmless curiosities about the cat: Garfield is named Gustav in Sweden. Garfield and his owner Jon Arbuckle live in Muncie, Indiana.

"Garfield is very universal," Davis told Mental Floss mid-interview. "By virtue of being a cat, really, he's not really male or female or any particular race or nationality, young or old."

The remark caused no fuss. At first.

Until last week, when the satirist Virgil Texas dug the quote up and used it to make a bold claim and bold move: "FACT: Garfield has no gender. This. Is. Canon. I have updated the Garfield Wikipedia entry to reflect this fact."

He changed Garfield's gender from "male" to "none". Almost instantly, the universe of Garfield fans clawed in. A Wikipedia editor reverted Garfield's gender back to male less than an hour after.

One minute later, someone in the Philippines made Garfield genderless again.

And so on. Behind the scenes, Wikipedia users debated how to resolve the raging "edit war".

"Every character (including Garfield himself!) constantly refers to Garfield unambiguously as male, and always using male pronouns," one editor wrote, listing nearly three dozen comic strips across nearly four decades to prove the point: "Like the one where Jon tells Garfield 'good boy!' before Garfield shoves a newspaper into his owner's mouth."

Another editor argued that only one of those examples "looks at self-identification" - a 1981 strip in which Garfield thinks, "I'm a bad boy" after eating a fern.

Others chided or philosophised: "Why must we care what Garfield is or isn't?" Mr Jimmy King asked. "Who cares what someone else perceives as him being male or female?"

Garfield's gender swopped 20 times over 21/2 days (during which his religion was briefly listed as Shiite Muslim for some reason) before an administrator was forced to step in.

Garfield was finally, officially listed as male on Wikipedia and the page was locked against more edits until this month.

Last Tuesday, Davis told The Washington Post: "Garfield is male; he has a girlfriend, Arlene."

Presented with the new evidence, Texas said: "He's in charge of the canon. I'm just curious how it squares with his prior statement..."

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 06, 2017, with the headline 'Is Garfield male or female?'. Print Edition | Subscribe