Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Pop Culture History of the Black Cat

No animal is as iconic as the black cat in pop culture's past and present. Its potential as an emblem of intrigue was recognized long ago. In 1881 in Paris, France a cabaret created by artist Rodolphe Salis, "Le Chat Noir" (French for The Black Cat), used a defiant-looking sable feline as its mascot. Its closure in 1897 disappointed many including Picasso, who looked forward to seeing it. Edgar Allen Poe's The Black Cat, which was first printed by the The Saturday Evening Post in 1843, tells the tale of one man's decent into madness caused by, he believes, a stray black cat. In 1934, Poe's story was loosely adapted into a horror film of the same name starring Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.

During the witch hunts and trials in 13th century Europe and 15th century America, the black cat was considered a witch's familiar. This age-old association is seen on Halloween cards and decorations today. Even though "witches" in these trials were accused of turning into other nocturnal animals, the black cat pairing endured for hundreds of years. Interestingly, in areas where there were few historical witch hunts, black cats are considered good luck. These places are Japan, Britain, Ireland, and Egypt.

A black cat picture created by Ralph Chaplin circa 1880 was used by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) for identification and intimidation. If an employer of industrial workers found the emblem in the workplace, it was considered to be a warning "bad luck" (or sabotage) would follow.

In recent American pop culture, the Black Cat Marvel Comics character first appeared in The Amazing Spider Man in 1979. The character is still popular today.

It is not the black cat's association with witchcraft that enabled its status as an enduring icon of mystery. It is simply the animal's own form and beauty that secured it's notoriety through the passing centuries. Hopefully this fact will encourage more appreciation and less superstition in the years to come.

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