Just a week ago, the internet was a divided place full of political bickering malaise. It still is, but at least we can all agree on how captivating the story of Jorts (pronounced with a "j" as in "jeans") the cat is. Here's how it happened, and what the human at the center of it all has to say about the internet's reaction.
Who is Jorts the cat?
An anonymous poster started a thread in the Reddit "Am I the asshole?" (AITA) community, a group discussion board that lets people vent about situations in their lives and get some perspective on whether or not they've, well, acted like an asshole.
The thread came from a user named "throwawayorangecat" and was titled "AITA for 'perpetuating ethnic stereotypes' about Jorts?" The best way to get caught up on Jorts is to read the whole post, but I'll give you the basics below.
According to the Reddit post, Jorts is an orange male tabby cat who lives full-time in a workplace along with his buddy Jean, a tortoiseshell kitty. The poster (let's call this person Jorts-Human), described how Jorts constantly gets himself locked in rooms or gets cups stuck on his head, while Jean, who comes across as the big brain of the pair, helps him get out of those tricky situations.
This would all be very cute and unremarkable except there's a colleague called Pam (not her real name) who "has been spending a lot of time trying to teach Jorts things" and attempting to assign Jorts-learning-related tasks to her co-workers.
'Stop buttering the cat, Pam'
Pam also allegedly smeared Jorts with margarine in an attempt to teach him how to clean himself better. According to Jorts-Human, this might have led to Jean licking Jorts off and then getting sick from the margarine. This is why you'll see references to the "buttering" of Jorts on social media. Case in point:
Jorts-Human thought this was all getting out of hand and made a joke to Pam about "you can't expect Jean's tortoiseshell smarts from orange cat Jorts." This allegedly triggered a Pam email accusing Jorts-Human of "perpetuating ethnic stereotypes by saying orange cats are dumb." According to the story, Pam also asked for racial sensitivity training before she would return to work. So naturally Jorts-Human took to Reddit to ask for a judgment on the assholery of the participants in this affair.
So what happened to Jorts, Jean and Pam?
In an AITA update, Jorts-Human reported on a productive meeting with the company's human relations department. Again, the entire message is worth a read, but I'll give you the summary below.
HR worked out a thoughtful solution for all involved. HR talked with Pam about putting the accusation of stereotyping in perspective, and made it clear that assigning her colleagues Jorts-related tasks wasn't part of her job. She was also banned from buttering Jorts.
Jorts-Human got some valuable perspective on Pam and the kitty-co-workers. "We both think Pam had a hard time with the transition from volunteer to staff, and may have 'new kid' sensitivity projected to Jorts," the Redditor wrote. "Pam got emotional about her perception that I favor Jean over Jorts and gave specific examples. Some of these things are fair. Jorts deserves respect as a member of our team."
Jorts-Human acknowledged some inequalities in the workplace between Jorts and Jean. Jorts now has a new cat bed and more respect from Jorts-Human.
As for the Reddit judgment, the overall sentiment was the original poster was not an asshole and that Pam's concern about ethnic stereotypes was going overboard. One top comment summarized it as, "You can't be racist against a cat, or any animal for that matter. It's an animal. Jorts does not care if you think he's dumb. He will not report you to HR for orangecatphobia."
Is Jorts the cat real?
That's an excellent question. I sure hope so, but I haven't personally met Jorts and Jean. The Reddit poster made a Jorts (and Jean) Twitter account, which is a wholesome stopover for reports on how many days have gone by without a Jorts trash-can mishap (currently zero). Some photos may be of Jorts and Jean.
I reached out to Jorts-Human and heard back via Twitter messages. On the question of the authenticity of the story, Jorts-Human said some details of the original Reddit post were changed to protect identities. That's a common theme for people seeking advice via AITA posts.
The outpouring of feelings for Jorts and Jean and Pam on the internet has been intense. "I think it strikes a chord about how hard the past few years have been and how we all just need to cut each other a break," Jorts-Human told me. "The email inbox for Jorts and Jean fan mail especially makes me downright emotional -- people sending photos and stories of their cats, many who have passed away."
Jorts-Human shared a photo of Jean with me, showing her outstretched paws and snuggly little face. While Jorts may be getting all the name recognition, Jean has quietly been a heroic workplace figure, always ready to help her friends out.
The Jorts Twitter account already has more than 32,000 followers. Whether or not Jorts and Jean and Pam and the buttering are real may be the least important question. What matters are the friendships we've made along the way. Jorts is a unifying force in a time of division and uncertainty.
Are orange male cats really himbos?
The Jorts saga introduced some folks to a few new vocabulary words. "Jorts," if you weren't aware, are cut-off jeans. The word comes from the mashup of "jeans" and "shorts." Many Twitter users dropped the term "himbo" to describe Jorts the cat. That's a mix of "him" and "bimbo," which in this case is meant to indicate that Jorts is a sweet cutie-pie, but that he might be a bit vacuous.
A 2015 study looked at the results of an online survey and found respondents were more likely to attribute the trait of friendliness to orange cats. There were plenty of anecdotal reports on Twitter of male ginger kitties being very loving, but perhaps not the cat equivalents of rocket scientists.
One Twitter user composed a poem modeled after William Carlos Williams' poem "This Is Just to Say," changing it to "I have buttered/the cat/that was in/the trash bin/ and which/you were probably/calling a himbo/Forgive me/he is an orange cat/so sweet/and so dumb."
Though science may not have a definitive answer on this question, it seems some people have himbo-like orange boys, while others have stood up for the intelligence of their ginger princes.
Whether or not Jorts is real, the Jorts Twitter account had something profound to say: "Maybe what you like about us isn't just helper Jean, or buttered Jorts. Maybe you like the story because you agree everyone's special contributions should be valued and that we are all just great exactly as we are." Now that's a life affirmation we can all get behind.