At the mention of George Takei’s name one immediately conjures his role as Star Trek’s helmsman Hikaru Sulu. Takei has acted both on and off Broadway, done voice acting, written his autobiography, and advocated for social and political causes, notably refugee and LGBTQ issues. Takei was on the small screen every week setting off my pre-pubescent gaydar when at age 8 I started watching Star Trek in 1967. Today he touches the lives of millions of people on Twitter and Facebook. Takei is now involved with the newly launched House of Cats political app featuring Trumpy Cat, Meowlania, Vladdy Putin and Lil’ Rocket Pug with more to come is available for Apple and Android. I recently had the opportunity to talk with George about Trumpy Cat and other topics. Anxiety was my companion up until George’s PR rep Stacey Grimsrud assured me George is a “true gent”. A moment of silence on the line was followed by Stacey’s introductions. She was right. I needn’t had worried.
As we exchanged pleasantries George sipped matcha to soothe his throat. Takei’s enthusiasm was undaunted and infectious as he shared a story of his grandmother’s belief in laughter and her living to the age of 104 and his plans to beat his grandmother.
George offered the following when I asked him how he became involved with Trumpy Cat: “A few years ago we had enormous success with Grumpy Cat. He became very popular and as a matter of fact we were nominated for a Shorty Award and we wound up winning the Shorty Award. So we were brainstorming and because we had so much success with Grumpy Cat he came up again. And the Internet loves the combination of politics and cats. Brad and I have five cats. We love cats. We said that’s a great combination and that’s how we came up with Trumpy Cat using Donald Trump’s very own words, his voice, as Trumpy Cat. His comments, observations, and accusations and wedding that with augmented reality and placing him in the most preposterous situations. Like this past weekend there was this massive demonstration that culminated at Trafalgar Square in London. We’ll have Trumpy Cat in that demonstration carrying a “Dump Trump” sign.
But this morning something even more preposterous, more ridiculous and outrageous and both blood boiling and laughable happened. [referring to the comments made by 45 at Helsinki] There without any augmented reality was Donald Trump shoulder to shoulder right next to Vladimir Putin at a podium and Trump announcing he embraced Putin’s denial and blaming — he’s supposed to be the President of the United States of America…he isn’t…he’s a fake president — and there he is blaming fellow Americans, the Democratic National Committee, Hilary Clinton, his own FBI, and Peter Strzok! It’s outrageous! My blood was boiling. I was raging and Brad [Takei’s husband] said “calm down, calm down”. With a different perspective and a larger contextual view it was ridiculous, absolutely preposterous. And that’s the kind of thing we want to do with augmented reality and Trumpy Cat.
I asked George about the possibility of Trumpy Cat merchandise. George replied that “Tee shirts are obvious. Or little figurines. Don’t you think that would be wonderful?” George’s excitement at this made me laugh and I suggested the idea of bobble heads for car dashes.
George stressed that part of the proceeds from the app will go to Refugees International, a non profit whose mission is near and dear to his heart. “He’s hostile to refugees and we want to counteract his ridiculousness by sharing the proceeds from Trumpy Cat. Trumpy Cat is a generous cat.” I confessed to being infuriated by ICE and Border Patrol separating children and parents at the border which in turn elicted this from Takei: “Children! Can you imagine children being torn away from their parents? He’s so incompetent that after he’s scattered them all over the country he can’t match them up with their parents any more! It’s an idiotic, incompetent, ill informed fake presidency! It’s outrageous!”
The child separations of this current administration brought up something else from the past for George – the forced imprisonment during World War II of Americans of Japanese ancestry. Takei was five when his family were removed from their Los Angeles home and relocated first to an internment camp in Arkansas and then to one in California. Takei stated: “As a child I was imprisoned by US barbed wire fences.” I had already known this horrendous fact about Takei and his family and the approximate 120,000 fellow Americans who shared the same fate.
What I did not share with George was my own dismay at not knowing of this egregious action until my forties. Nothing like this was taught in Mr Beaver’s high school history. As a child in the late 1960s I had some small awareness that Americans liked Japanese people and things compared to twenty five years earlier. I was familiar with the Speed Racer cartoon and Godzilla and Mothra movies (along with dubbed Steve Reeves movies) were shown on Saturday afternoons where I grew up but I was most keenly aware of animus toward Japanese (and Chinese and Koreans) by how artists drew their depictions from 1940s and 1950s stories reprinted in 1970s comics. Takei sharing his insight from this period of his childhood has me considering the further indignities heaped upon Asian Americans then and now.
George segued to a differnt part of his youth when he began to discover, as he put it, that he was more interested in Bobby with his sweet smile instead of being excited by Monica developing breasts early like all the other boys in school. His male peers attitude towards girls affected George who confides this is when his acting started. “When you’re a teenager you want to belong, so I acted like them and I joined in the huffing and puffing over Monica. When they started dating I dated too. When my buddy wanted to double date I’d double date but to be completely frank I was more interested in my buddy than in my date. Then when I decided I wanted to pursue an acting career I knew that I couldn’t be who I truly was and have and acting career. During my teenage years my heartthrob was Tab Hunter. Tall, good looking, athletic, boy next door. One of the scandal sheets exposed him as gay and suddenly he disappeared. He was the leading man in almost every movie coming out of Warner Brothers Studios. Damn Yankees and Battle Cry. They nullified his contract and he disappeared and that was an object lesson for me. If I wanted an acting career I had to act like I was heterosexual. As a child I had barbed wire fences confining me and for five decades of my life, half a century, I was confined by an invisible wire fence…being gay and being silent about it and constrained by it while at the same time being an activist on social justice and political issues. So I know what it’s like to be — [George paused for a moment here] confined by real barbed wire fences and — [I interrupted with “psychologically”] — right.
When that invisible barbed wire fence was finally broken in 2005 by the California legislature did an amazing thing. It was a groundbreaking, landmark event. They passed the Marriage Equality bill in California and it needed one more signature, the signature of the governor of the state who happened to be a movie star, Arnold Schwarzenegger. When he campaigned for governor he campaigned by saying “I’m from Hollywood. I’ve worked with gays and lesbians. Some of my friends are gay and lesbian”. So with that kind of campaign rhetoric I thought surely he would sign that marriage equality bill, but when the bill landed on his desk he vetoed it. Brad and I were raging and we started talking about it and decided that I’ve had an alright career and now may be the time deal with it and come out and blast Arnold Schwarzenegger and that’s what I did. I’ve been out and very active and vocal politically, serving on civic boards and commissions and certainly as a volunteer in all these political campaigns. So we thought we would combine our political activism with our love for cats in Trumpy Cat.”
Since George had touched on his acting career I wanted to ask him how he’d compare the Hollywood of Tab Hunter and his own direct experiences to the Hollywood of today and diversity and representation. Did George think Hollywood might ever make a big blockbuster movie with a gay lead (or any kind of big budget movie for that matter. George replied: “Yes, we are making progress. Sometimes progress is slow…three steps forward and then two steps back followed by another three teps forward and two steps back. It’s stop and go, stop and go, stop and go but that’s been going on for over a century.
We are making progress. There was one point in my career when I thought I would never be out and here I am not only out but having actively advocated for things like marriage equality in our state but also throughout the country as it happened piecemeal all over the country. This is the United States of America so we wanted it for everybody to have the same equal social justice. In 2015 at long last we got that but now with this fake president in office we’re taking some steps back. Right now the greatest challenge is to the transgender community. I happened to be in Greensboro North Carolina on the night that the North Carolina legislature surreptitiously passed the rushed bathroom bill. We’re living in these times now with this joke of a president where real damage is being done to our society and that’s what’s being underscored is the importance of all people who cherish the basic fundamental ideals of this country…all men are created equal with an inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We have to be actively engaged in the process by being vocal, by being activist and by using social media as a weapon. Certainly the weapon can come in various forms and we’ve done it in the forms of satire and mockery and laughter — Trumpy Cat!
George then shared a little news about an upcoming project that is due in early 2019, a graphic novel titled “They Called Me Enemy” which is about his childhood imprisonment. It should be noted that George deliberately uses words “imprisonment” and “prison camps” because that is what the experience was. “We were categorized as enemy aliens which was on both accounts totally preposterous. We were loyal, patriotic Americans. Born, raised, and educated here yet we were all 120,000 of us ‘enemy aliens’ and put into these barbed wire prison camps. We as a nation have a history and we’ve been moving forward. When Donald Trump signed the first Muslim travel ban that was a test and the American people have learned the lesson of the imprisonment of Japanese Americans more than 75 years ago. Thousands and thousands of people throughout the country rushed to their airports to protests Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban. Attorneys offered their help pro bono and the Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said she would not defend this executive order. So the people of America have learned and they don’t want to see what happened to Japanese Americans repeated again, but here’s Trump and we are recreating it and taking it to new depths. I was a kid then but we were not separated from our parents. The family was intact. Donald Trump went even lower and tore babies from their mothers and imprisoned them and scattered them throughout the country and deported some of the parents. He can’t bring the children and parents together because he’s so incompetent.
I think the time is right because it’s both a ridiculous time and a tragic time. We need to laugh and rage at the same time. Trumpy Cat will serve as that vehicle.”
Thank you, George! Reading this it would seem that I didn’t ask George but a couple questions from the list I’d prepared. In reality he answered even the questions that I didn’t directly pose to him aside from the one asking how he spent the Second American Revolution. And while I’d gotten over the worst of my nervousness I was still quite awed at the reality of having a phone conversation with George Takei.
Read the Trumpy Cat press release for details about the app!