“Sex Survey Results, the Pipe Strip and the Return of Lasagna Cat”
Jon Arbuckle, Zero
Despite his status as a cultural icon for the past forty years, Garfield hasn’t contributed much to the artistic world at large- save for some “I hate Mondays” coffee mugs and the memes your aunt shares on Facebook. And while this orange cat has never truly gone away, he isn’t often discussed. Garfield has existed as background noise for the past several decades as a three-panel comic strip, the occasional cartoon, and a handful of kids’ movies that nobody saw. Everybody knows who Garfield is but few have dedicated as much time analyzing his oeuvre as Fatal Farm’s Zach Johnson and Jeffrey Max.
In 2008, they produced a series of videos called Lasagna Cat, consisting of a re-enactment of an actual Garfield comic often followed by a music video expanding on it, always ending on an image of Jim Davis’ face, as though to thank him for his work. By re-enacting a three-panel comic strip and ending it with a drum sting and canned laughter, they show how inane Garfield comics really are. Harmless, but not particularly funny. And by pushing the subject even further despite it being so shallow in content, they emphasize how unnecessary any analysis of Garfield is- and that is why it’s funny. Johnson and Max have found success in directing various commercials (including some Old Spice ads) and have worked with Adult Swim and Key and Peele. They left Lasagna Cat in 2008 as they worked on more lucrative endeavors- that is until just a couple of months ago.
After releasing a ton of new Lasagna Cat videos (now in HD, with a visibly higher production budget), including an hour-long philosophical deconstruction of an early comic in which Garfield steals Jon Arbuckle’s pipe, called “07/27/1978”. It is narrated by turtleneck-clad actor John Blythe Barrymore III (yes, of the Barrymore family) in his first cinematic appearance since 1990, and is scored by Phillip Glass. Not only does Barrymore give an incredibly sincere performance, but the writing is so phenomenal that after watching the full thing (which I did, happily), I too was invested in the deeper meaning of the pipe strip. While it is done sarcastically, the theories posed in this video have some merit. In an interview with The Nerdy Show Network, Johnson & Max describe “07/27/1978” as “…a thesis statement for the entirety of Lasagna Cat”, in that we are living in a world in which omnipresent characters in the public domain can be appropriated and shared the same way Biblical figures have been- except now, we have the internet- so it’s being shared immediately and on a global scale. The interactive element of the internet was important to them in the creation of this series, which is what inspired its magnum opus, Sex Survey Results.
Without any warning or explanation, they announced that they were holding a sex survey, and requested that viewers dial a 1-800 number, state their name and the amount of sexual partners they’ve had. In a four-hour art film entitled Sex Survey Results, John Arbuckle, Garfield and Odie take turns hearing a knock at the door, answering it, and listening to the recordings of 999 actual people who had dialed the number. (e.g. “Knock knock” “who’s there”, “Jenny, 4”). It ends with Jon Arbuckle himself at the door, and dives into a surreal Lynchian horror film about his own damaged psyche.
According to Johnson & Max, the bulk of the video is “a knock-knock joke that never ended, which is a commentary on Garfield.” Garfield itself is a simple and repetitive joke (he hates Mondays, he loves lasagna, he hates Mondays, he loves lasagna), without a punch line and it’s been going on for decades. From an editing standpoint, Sex Survey Results is a masterpiece. The cuts are seamless and I cannot imagine the incredible patience required to put something like this together. And it’s odd that something this time-consuming was done on a whim. They released the 1-800 number without a plan of what to do with it. And they didn’t have the idea for the ending monologue to be performed in Polish until they found out that the actress they hired spoke it fluently. They just went with what they found funny and ran with it without a specific end goal. And that final few minutes of Sex Survey Results doesn’t really have a deeper meaning. The joke of the entire Lasagna Cat series is that there is no point to Garfield itself, therefore no point in dedicating any time to it. But in the revival of the series, Johnson and Max have made some conscious effort to be less cruel toward its source material. Max said he had felt bad revisiting it because “…I don’t think it’s fair for an adult to attack a cartoon that’s used to like, encourage children to read…we tried to steer it a little bit more to some ‘Campbell’s soup cans’ modern art piece with the sex survey, which I hope we did. I think that exists as more of an exploration of interactivity and postmodernism.”