100 Years, 50 Losers: #4. Thomas “Tom” Cat
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 22, 2008
Don’t you believe it
Thomas “Tom” Cat, Tom and Jerry cartoons
Voiced By: William Hanna, Allen Swift, Mel Blanc, others
Born to Lose: There was a girl I knew back in high school who I was friends-through-friends with, but hadn’t come down with a conclusive opinion on, until one day we were in a comics store with a bunch of our friends and they started showing some Tom & Jerry episodes. As I was wont to do whenever the subject came up, I started ranting about how Tom was the real hero of those cartoons and what a poor sap he was compared to an evil mastermind like Jerry. The girl stared at me uncomprehendingly and said she thought Jerry was the more relateable character. It became suddenly and disturbingly clear that this girl and I were going to have issues. (I was definitely right, though to her credit, six years and a decent amount of drama later, she turned out to be a pretty OK person).
I couldn’t tell you how the dynamic between Tom and Jerry started–I’ve never watched the series straight through, exactly–but to me, it’s abundantly clear that in their relationship, Jerry is the aggressor and Tom is the patsy. What reason does Tom have to want to chase Jerry? It’s not culinary–even on the rare instances that he actually catches him, he never actually tries to eat, or even kill him. And it’s not like Tom seems like an inherently violent person–whenever he’s not in pursuit of Jerry, he’s basically nothing more than a less cynical Garfield, just laying about the house, eating elaborate sandwiches, romancing female cats, not a care in the world. Possibly it started out as Tom just chasing Jerry on species instinct, but even if so, it was never personal with Tom.
Jerry, on the other hand, is a straight-up sadist. Much smarter than his supposed “tormentor,” Jerry spends the majority of most T&J episodes plotting little schemes to get Tom shaved, electrocuted, beaten up, and to just all-out ruin his lazy afternoon. Unlike the Roadrunner, who was forced to get Wile E. Coyote to blow himself up and run himself off of cliffs out of self-defense (although he never seemed particularly threatened by WEC, given his Lions-esque win/loss record), Jerry is usually the one who starts shit–out of malice, out of boredom, who knows. Usually, the only times Tom acts out against Jerry is out of revenge and annoyance for when Jerry tries to frame him for destroying the curtains with the house maid, or when he disrupts his naptime by catching his nose in a mousetrap, or pantses him in front of the girl he’s crushing on. I mean, if some little punk was doing that kind of crap to you–and you were about five times his size–wouldn’t you want to do something about it?
(Jerry forms a pre-emptive alliance with a fellow pissant)
Now, not that Tom is a particularly righteous individual–he clearly leads an extremely self-centered existence, and he maybe has a little too short a temper (why not just calm down, collect some evidence, and alert the maid to all of Jerry’s misdoings?) But I mean, he seems like a decent-enough guy–especially by cat standards, since even the most gregarious of their sorts are still by nature narcissistic and tempermental. Meanwhile, not only does Jerry constantly disrupt Tom’s peaceful serenity, but he has that expression on his face while doing so–that smug, self-satisfied, shit-eater smile that makes you want to punch its wearer, no matter who it is. Jerry’s like your little eight-year-old Damien of a third-cousin, the kid who’ll kick you in the shin for no apparent reason and just smile at you for it like he just gave you a Christmas present–except you can’t go and knee him in the groin in vengeance because the rest of your family will always take his side.
You can’t compete with someone like that, because even when you win, you lose. And that’s the story of Tom’s life–permanently fighitng a war that he didn’t ask for, and one which always ends with him shaved, sore-assed and electrocuted.
Partner in Loserdom: Obviously I’m far from the first to point out the evil and psychosis involved in the Tom and Jerry dynamic–The Simpsons did it far better than I ever could with the entire Itchy & Scratchy subplot, in which the timid, mild-mannered and somewhat sentimental Scratchy is not just tormented, but murdered and usually gruesomely dismembered by the sociopathic Itchy. Interestingly, I&C seems to suggest a sort of psychosexual aspect to their relationship, as Scratchy often appears to be weirdly in love with Itchy, implying a kind of domestic abuse or possibly extreme-S&M basis to their relationship. Wonder what Hanna-Barbara would’ve thought about that.