The Kitty’s Journey: Joseph Campbell and Friskies

Does a cat food commercial provide the best illustration of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey?


1) The Road of Trials: The road of trials is a series of tests, tasks, or ordeals that the person must undergo to begin the transformation. Often the person fails one or more of these tests, which often occur in threes.

Kitty walks along a path, passing through a tunnel as a symbolic “birth” into his adventure. And remember that part about the “tests that come in threes”. We will get back to that soon.

2) The Meeting with the Goddess: The meeting with the goddess represents the point in the adventure when the person experiences a love that has the power and significance of the all-powerful, all encompassing, unconditional love that a fortunate infant may experience with his or her mother. It is also known as the “hieros gamos”, or sacred marriage, the union of opposites, and may take place entirely within the person. In other words, the person begins to see him or herself in a non-dualistic way. This is a very important step in the process and is often represented by the person finding the other person that he or she loves most completely. Although Campbell symbolizes this step as a meeting with a goddess, unconditional love or self-unification does not have to be represented by a woman.

The “Goddess” here is the pink butterfly carrying the Friskies banner. This is an advertisement, after all, so it is only fair that Friskies assert itself as the “Holy Grail” in this particular tale (another theme we will discuss in further detail later). It is undeniable that a pink butterfly carries a definite “femininity” to its aesthetic, and judging by Kitty’s fascination, her effect upon him is indeed magical. Kitty’s non-dualistic view of “Self” is confirmed.

3) Woman as the Temptress: At one level, this step is about those temptations that may lead the hero to abandon or stray from his or her quest, which as with the Meeting with the Goddess does not necessarily have to be represented by a woman. For Campbell, however, this step is about the revulsion that the usually male hero may feel about his own fleshy/earthy nature, and the subsequent attachment or projection of that revulsion to women. Woman is a metaphor for the physical or material temptations of life, since the hero-knight was often tempted by lust from his spiritual journey.

This step is symbolized by Kitty’s confrontation of the Abyss. The first in Kitty’s “three tests”, his hesitant approach to the gaping emptiness represents doubt about his own disassociation from self. Conquering the Abyss presents itself as Kitty’s first major hurdle. Consider the objects on its periphery: Feminine, milk-giving cows spot the fields in his immediate vicinity, while phallic, jutting windmills float far away on the horizon. Subtle hints at sexuality abound in this scene of fear and adversity.

4) Atonement with the Father: In this step the hero must confront and be initiated by whatever holds the ultimate power in his or her life. In many myths and stories this is the father, or a father figure who has power over life and death. This is the center point of the journey. All the previous steps have been moving in to this place, all that follow will move out from it. Although this step is most frequently symbolized by an encounter with a male entity, it does not have to be a male; just someone or thing with incredible power. For the transformation to take place, the person as he or she has been must be “killed” so that the new self can come into being. Sometime this killing is literal, and the earthly journey for that character is either over or moves into a different realm.

Water: Something with incredible power.

We all know that cats are afraid of water. And what else has “life and death giving” power like water? We drink to live; we drown. Life is given, life is taken. When Kitty boards his vessel, he begins the second of his “tests”, confrontation and atonement with his proverbial “father”, the sea. Need I even call attention to the phallic symbols present?

Consider the scene in The Empire Strikes Back where Luke, in a hallucinatory state, beheads Darth Vader with a light saber, only to find his OWN FACE within Vader’s smoking, shattered helmet. Now observe the manner in which Kitty beholds his own reflection in the water.

His second test completed, Kitty ventures onward to the third.

5) Apotheosis: To apotheosize is to deify. When someone dies a physical death, or dies to the self to live in spirit, he or she moves beyond the pairs of opposites to a state of divine knowledge, love, compassion and bliss. This is a god-like state: the person is in heaven and beyond all strife. A more mundane way of looking at this step is that it is a period of rest, peace and fulfillment before the hero begins the return.

6) The Ultimate Boon: The ultimate boon is the achievement of the goal of the quest. It is what the person went on the journey to get. All the previous steps serve to prepare and purify the person for this step, since in many myths the boon is something transcendent like the elixir of life itself, or a plant that supplies immortality, or the holy grail.

Behold the “Holy Grail” (or “boon”) in all its glory. Kitty has ascended to godhood and possesses not a care in the world. But his dish of Friskies lies back in his own world. The irony is almost palpable.

7 Comments on “The Kitty’s Journey: Joseph Campbell and Friskies”

  1. Topher #

    Wow, that commercial was trippy. Maybe the kids will start snorting cat food to get high. I know I wants me some!!!


  2. Greg #

    Does this happen every time Kitty is given Friskies?
    Because even if it doesn’t, it leaves some great expectations for the next bowl of cat food (and, by extension, people:


  3. Greg #

    Sorry, I’m kind of a copy/paste kind of person.


  4. Harold #

    Yea, but the Kitty’s Prequels sucked.


  5. Carlos #

    Best guest post ever.


  6. Tim Peever #

    I am with Carlos on it. This article is a fine example of why I follow this website!

    A co-worker once told me that at the advertising firm Wieden + Kennedy, they are quite tolerant of people drinking and doing drugs while on the job, so long as it helps their creative process. If you see a commercial that makes you think the writer must have been high when he or she thought of it… you are possibly correct.


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