Saturday, January 05, 2008

Out of Eden

ANIMAL cruelty: only a human being could have devised a terrible slur and palmed this off on another class of beings in our deceptive Eden.

If you think I am exaggerating, just look at our stories. While Noah got to secure several members of his clan, the animals had to narrow their choice to a small universe of two members for every species.

How difficult it must have been for the four-legged, the winged, or those who slithered by on their bellies! The Holy Book is silent about the selection process: did the animals use necessary “animal cruelty” to find who among them was the primus inter pares (first among equals) and his mate?

So even a creature like the dodo, two-legged but unfortunately not a member of the Chosen Humans, had to unload all the prospects of their species onto two luckless fellows that bred so poor a line of heirs, they survived the flood, only to be upgraded to the extinct class by the close of the 1600s.

Yet, for all his well-intentioned elitism, Noah of the Ark did not invent personification. The Chinese zodiac should be blamed for the universal impulse, every start of the year, to blame a certain animal for 12 months’ worth of repeated mistakes, foreseeable mishaps and vague fears.

The anthropomorphic tendency to attribute human-like traits to animals is the thread running through the fabled race among animals organized by the Jade Emperor of China thousands of years ago.

According to many sources on the Internet, two best friends—the cat and the rat—asked an ox to carry them across the river. But when they were halfway across, it occurred to the rat that when they reached the other side, the cat would undoubtedly pounce away and outrun her.

So the rat pushed her friend off the ox’s back and, upon reaching the other side, reached the Jade Palace first, winning the race.

For this act of sordid betrayal, the rat is the Chinese zodiac’s premier animal, followed by the lumbering ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and finally, pig.

Any human owned by a cat knows very well that all feline creatures detest water. The ex-best friend, the cat, was never able to finish the Jade Emperor’s race as, after dragging its yowling self to dry ground, it had to groom itself first.

Plotting revenge, of course, takes time. According to the legend, cats are still catching mice up to this day, to even out that first betrayal.

Though owned by a dozen cats and their disreputable-looking street Lotharios, I am not averse to prosperity and good prospects. To get into the mood of the Year of the Rat, officially starting on Feb. 7, 2008, I tried to convince my mother to watch “Ratatouille” and the less popular but wittier made-for-a-rat British animation, “Flushed Away.”.

Otherwise a softie for purple dinosaurs and grammar-challenged teddy bears, my mother put her foot down: no rats, not even high-browed ones, for her. To avoid setting the wrong tone on Dec. 31, I dutifully played my mother’s favorite Jodie Foster-starrer, “The Brave One.”

Watching again this beautiful, intelligent actress solve the male infestation problem through mindless vigilantism, I commented aloud that Foster’s character was indeed like a rat, a lean and mean survival machine.

Thanks to personification, we watched New Year glide into view via “Blades of Glory,” the Will Ferrell comedy about two men, confused and confusing but hardly resembling a certain twitchy, long-tailed creature from out of Eden. 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Jan. 6, 2008 issue

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