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George Takei Tackles Toxic Politics with Levity, Cats

By Tina Mulqueen

“Hate mongers love to take themselves very seriously,” says George Takei, presumably through that famous smile, although I interviewed him via email so it’s hard to tell. The activist, veteran Star Trek actor, and social media icon has never minced words about his political critiques.

And he takes on his targets with a laugh and a smile. Why lock horns when you can make it a joke? The way he sees it, humor is a tool, one that can “defang even the worst venomous snakes.” Citing the torch-wielding nationalists at May 2017’s Charlottesville rally as an example, he notes “when it turned out those were tiki torches, we all felt less scared, and they looked pretty silly.” When we have humor, we have the upper hand.

Levity in a Time of Intolerance. And Cats.

And regardless of our side of the political isle, we could sure use some humor. With our fear-fueled and ever-polarized political climate, times are troubling, indeed. And the internet offers little respite. How could it? Cyberspace is basically made of cats on one end, and a furious black hole of political despair on the other (thanks, algorithms).

If only we had some kind of app to bridge that divide – a tool to soothe our political outrage. With cats. Don’t say you haven’t wished for this.

Well, good news: it’s here. And better news: George Takei is behind it. It’s called House of Cats, and it’s a direct dig at Trump and company. Takei based the concept on his popular meme character, Grumpy Cat (Takei actually beat Grumpy Cat for an Internet Culture Prize at the Shorty Awards in 2013).

“We live in a time where many of us are outraged by what is happening, and embarrassed by the state of our leadership in the White House. So, to soften that a bit, I wanted House of Cats to add some levity to our politics.”

House of Cats is an augmented reality app through which users can share political commentary or simply day-to-day humor with friends through a cast of characters including Trumpy Cat, Meowlania, and Vladdy Putin. Users can snap selfies with a frowning, bouffanted, orange-faced Trumpy Cat, or they can make their own meme with Vladdy speaking to a recorded voice. The possibilities are only constrained by the user’s imagination.

But Will It Do Any Good?

Is it helping to laugh about the hate? Did Britain’s giant Trump Baby balloon, for example, do any good?

As far as politics go, Takei believes that laughter unites people instead of dividing them. “Humor is a great way to bring people together, so we are laughing along with — and not always sniping at — one other,” he says. “It reminds us that no matter our differences, we share a common bond of being fallible, sometimes silly people.”

That unity helps create traction to advance real change. “Once you find that common bond, it’s hard to hate, and that’s the key: hate breeds division, but humor breeds compassion.”

Partnership With Refugees International

In addition to catalyzing a political bridge, the app is on a mission to support one group in particular: refugees. As a five year old, Takei was forcibly detained with his family in an American Japanese internment camp. He knows firsthand how policies like the Trump administration’s recent zero-tolerance crackdown on immigration translates into real suffering. “People often forget,” he says, “when faced with all the political posturing and inhumane policies promulgated by the Trump Administration, that we are really talking about families deeply impacted by these cruel actions.”

Takei is sending a portion of proceeds from House of Cats, which is $0.99 to download, to Refugees International, so users can laugh along while helping to instigate positive change.

Takei reminds us that laughter and love have a better shot than undirected outrage. Takei’s flawless blend of activism and humor comes through in House of Cats to provide not just a barrel of yucks at Trump’s expense, but another small nudge towards peace and equality.

“I can’t wait for my fans to see it,” Takei says. Probably smiling.

Tina Mulqueen

Tina Mulqueen is the founder and managing editor of Et al. Media and the CEO of Kindred PR, a full service marketing and public relations company devoted to representing socially responsible brands in entertainment, media, retail and technology. A sought after tech communicator, non-profit founder, and avid advocate for women in tech, Mulqueen is a writer with a regular column on Forbes, and has been seen in INC, Adweek, TheStreet, Today, Huffington Post and Thrive Global, among other publications and media outlets. She's worked alongside CBS and Vanity Fair to get news coverage to trend online, and consulted with Marie Claire and other media companies on creating new revenue streams through influencer and affiliate collaborations.