The Grumpy Cat meme frowned its way onto the Internet in September 2012 and never turned its dissatisfied head back. Since then, the image of the cranky cat has grown more and more popular in direct proportion to appearing less and less impressed by fame.
The cat behind the meme is Tardar Sauce, named after tartar sauce but adorably misspelled by the youngest member of the cat’s human family. Another family member launched Tardar’s star by posting a photo of the mixed-breed housecat to the social website Reddit, where it was quickly shared and captioned.
“Her popularity became evident very quickly. Everyone loves to see Grumpy Cat,” says Bryan Bundesen, brother of Tardar’s owner, Tabatha Bundesen, who first shared Grumpy Cat’s photos. He thinks the frowny face is something everyone can understand.
“We feel people are drawn to Grumpy Cat because everyone can relate to that face. Everyone has had a bad day, been in a bad mood or has just felt grumpy.”
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Videos show that the unhappiness is only skin-deep; Tardar is a very happy and cuddly cat. Her frown is a result of feline dwarfism and a pronounced underbite. She has shorter-than-average legs like the Munchkin breed, but her dwarfism is a pure mutation. Her parents are a calico mother and a tabby father. Genetic anomalies aside, vets have checked her out and deemed her a very healthy kitty with a unique face.
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“When you look at her grumpy expression, you can’t stop yourself from smiling,” Bundesen says. “People can look at her face and relate it to a feeling or thought and it alleviates some stress and makes them smile.”
Tardar has indeed made a distinct impression on people through photos and in person. She has made two public appearances: at the South by Southwest festival in Austin in March 2013, and in New York City in June 2013. An earlier media tour in New York included a stop by the Today Show, Good Morning America, CBS Evening News and Anderson Live with Anderson Cooper.
More tours are in her future, but don’t worry about tiring out Tardar. Her family minimizes the time she’s out and enforces a no-contact policy with strangers, so she stays comfortable and safe.
“We think she is oblivious to her fame and popularity,” Bundesen says. “She has slept through most of the two public appearances we’ve attended.”
A High-Profile Feline
Online accolades include being named Meme of the Year by web list-maker Buzzfeed, receiving Meme of the Year at the 2013 Webbys and being called the Most Influential Cat by MSNBC for 2012. She remains grounded amid all the notoriety.
More media attention is coming her way. In June, Chronicle Books published Grumpy Cat: A Grumpy Book, and a feature-length movie is in the works.
Tardar’s family knows their good fortune and pays it forward. A portion of proceeds from merchandise sales on Grumpy Cat’s website go to shelters to help cats in need. “We receive many positive messages about supporting animal shelters.” The Bundesens have focused on finding no-kill shelters or shelters that offer inexpensive spay/neuter clinics.
The high-profile pieces and media exposure are fun, but what seems the most rewarding to Grumpy Cat’s human family is the warm and positive effect she has on people.
“We have received so many messages from people that are dealing with long-term illnesses saying how Grumpy Cat has made them laugh when nothing else has. The huge number of emotional messages and nice comments that we receive from fans always surprises us.” c