V: Cat

The Nameneko craze predicted LolCats.

V: Cat
That's right, time for a cat picture. Photo by Rick T.T. / Unsplash

Good morning. Today is quintidi, the 25th of Nivôse, Year CCXXXI. We celebrate le chat, a barely domesticated hunter that takes advantage our love without remorse, the rascal.

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Cats weren't treated well in France. For centuries, torturing cats was a traditional way to celebrate holidays. The rituals of Mardi Gras often involved pulling cats by the tails or ears in order to produce yowls to add to the general noise of a charivari procession. May Day sometimes featured cats tied to the top of a pole or swung around in the air on ropes. Even brutalities like drowning and burning them alive in sacks were considered good entertainment. Some of this was due to the association of cats with witches, and the belief that harming a cat would also harm or hamper a witch. (The French were second only to the Pilgrims in their zealous desire to criminalize witchcraft.) But much of it was just a casual cruelty of the time, a genuine cultural delight in the sound of an upset cat. Let's redeem all that with a more pleasant cat story now...

Forty years ago, a craze hit Japan for cats dressed up in doll clothes and photographed doing human things. They were usually posed as juvenile delinquents, holding cigarettes and loitering in back alleys. These cats were up to no good, and cute as hell.

The whole thing was the brainchild of photographer Satoru Tsuda, and he called the cats Nameneko, which loosely translates as "don't lick me." They were also marketed under the name Perlorian, especially in the United States, where the craze never really took off, but may have inspired everything from William Wegman to SNL's Toonces, the Driving Cat. More importantly, the Nameneko were a harbinger of LolCat culture.

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