Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Cat Massacre

What a Revoltin’ Development!

The “Workers Revolt: The Great Cat Massacre of the Rue Saint-Severin” article provides an interesting take on the subject of cultural studies from a Western perspective. Here is an incident that took place in the Western world, but is incomprehensible to modern interpretations. What the reader is presented with in this article is not so much a completely alien culture, but instead a culture that is alien to the reader’s views because of a massive difference in time.
Time, it seems, has created a massive rift in cultural understanding, however. Though the Cat Massacre in question undoubtedly takes place in France, in the Western World, 370 years have made it a France with which the reader is unfamiliar. What is described here is a pre-industrial society, with massive differences in social structure, civil behavior, and beliefs that marks it as a culture that require further investigation to fully understand the meaning of the cat massacre.
To the perpetrators, the massacre was an extraordinarily funny joke, and the author of the article identifies that in understanding the joke, the reader can more fully understand the culture of the 1730’s artisan class. One such point that the author brings up is that the reader, in the modern age of prevention of cruelty to animals, finds something very nearly depraved about the practice of torturing and murdering cats. The author’s approach from there is not to attempt to parallel the cat killing wit modern-day approximations—for surely a reader would take issue with anything being compared to killing cats for amusement—but to delve deeply into the historical significance of not only the artisan class, but the body of folklore surrounding cats.
The working-class relationship of apprentice and master is brought into sharp relief as the reader discovers the strained relationship between the newly-bourgeoisie masters and the still-lower-class workers. The killing of the cats was, in all respects, a form of entertaining retaliation against the rich and lazy masters. It is not simply that the killing of the master and mistress’ cats as a form of disobedience, but that there are several deep significances to the uses of cats.
The author of the article unearths gems from the massive body of folklore surrounding cats, tying in not only superstition, but figures of speech that survive in both English and French today, combining humor with superstition information that I find fascinating.

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