Friday, February 08, 2008

Happy Chinese New Year!

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

Kong Hee Fat Choi! Kiong Hee Hwat Chai! Sin Nien Kwai Le! Sin Nee Kwai Lok! Happy Chinese New Year! Let's usher in the year of the Earth Rat!

According to Chinese Horoscope Masters, this year is filled with opportunity and money, good things, good things. As my friend texted, (you can practically hear the Chinese accent in the message “Year of Earth Rat filled with good luck. Money come from God.”

It's only in the Chinese Zodiac where a rat is considered a “good” animal. Everywhere else, from movies to literature to history, the rat has been treated with (well deserved) hate and disgust.

Rats rarely get to be the star of movies. Oftentimes, they're part of the background, used to denote a place that's dark and filthy and not fit for humans, like the sewers or a tomb, for example.

When they are part of the main cast, they are often misunderstood creatures who side with misunderstood men. The most well-known examples of these are, of course, Ben (whose theme song takes us back to a time when Michael Jackson wasn't just young and cute, he was also black), and more recently, Willard, a remake of the 1971 movie that started it all.

If not, they're part of a rat mob, out to destroy humans. I remember watching such a movie with my cousins in my childhood. I can't remember the name of the movie, only that there were rats, and lots of them. This was your usual B-movie, filled with hormonal teenagers (who all looked like they were in their 30's. Hey, I was six. Everyone looks old when you're six.), idiotic adults, and as many rodents as could possibly fill the screen. I only remember one scene from that movie, a scene that disturbed me then and still disturbs me now. One of the teenagers was going to sleep in a sleeping bag, and for some reason, even though she was in the middle of a killer rat-infested town, she decided to do this naked. What happened was cinematically inevitable. She died in the most gruesomely disturbing way possible in her condition. Rats can gnaw through cloth easy, so guess where they went in, and guess where they came out. I don't know what the name of the movie was.

Nowadays, rats are getting an image makeover, the most recent enterprise of which is Ratatouille, the disturbing Pixar animation that did not sit well with me because one, Linguini, the main character had no redeeming qualities whatsoever (he was just a vehicle for Remy the Rat's culinary aspirations) and two, a kitchen full of rats is just wrong, even if they all washed their paws. Writer Troy Patterson lightly analyzes rats in pop culture in his review of the above movie.

He writes:

“There's a whole book for some crazy person to write about rodents in pop culture, with one chapter devoted to Alvin and the Chipmunks and another analyzing the werebeavers depicted in both Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon and Pamela Anderson's Stripperella.”

Let's admit it: to most people, rats are scary, be it a lone rodent munching on the crumbs on your kitchen floor to the flood of rats that take over your house, your town, your kitchen. But there's a certain kind of rat whose gross out factor far outweighs that of the ordinary rattus rattus. It's something we're not familiar with in the Philippines, but have sometimes encountered in books and stories, usually of European origin. I'm talking about the Rat King.

Wikepedia describes the Rat King as thus:

“Rat kings are cryptozoological phenomena said to arise when a number of rats become intertwined at their tails, which become stuck together with blood, dirt, and excrement. The animals consequently grow together while joined at the tails, which are often broken. The phenomenon is particularly associated with Germany, where the majority of instances have been reported.”

Two of my favorite authors use the Rat King either literally or figuratively in their novels. There's China Mieville's King Rat, his drum 'n' bass, jungle-fueled pied piper-inspired first novel, and Terry Pratchett's The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, a book aimed at younger readers about a cat, together with his rat friends, who have a really good scam going.

On the horror front, rats, as well as other creatures like spiders, bees, rabbits, and most recently, sheep can (sometimes) be effective vehicles of fear when there are a lot of them, and if they're ready to kill. I realize that this is more often used as a cinematic convention than a literary one, but it's still an idea you can play with.

Here's to a year of joy, prosperity, and lots of ideas for us all!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Similar views of rats can also be seen in other cultures, such as Indian and Japanese.