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Rats to Riches

The world and my sanity are both in very enfeeble states, and I have been keeping myself from going crazy by surfing the web and making Tiktoks. Last week I decided to read up on historical pandemics, mainly a way to comfort and assure myself of a life A.C - a life after corona. I stumbled upon an article about how rats weren’t actually the cause of the Bubonic plague. I was chooketh. And for some weird reason I started feeling bad for the animal with the world's (historically speaking) worst image.

So today I want to talk about rats; who, like me, have been labeled trashy and disgusting, with weird eating habits. All this hate despite them (me) minding their (my) own business, for the most part. They might be benevolent disease bearers, but so was I during hot girl summer ‘19. We, as a society, need to cut them some slack! 

And I am in fact seeing some sort of rat-related trend: They seem to be mid-rebranding. Rats have been popping up just about everywhere lately (not literally, physically, because I don’t live in New York, which leads me to suggest we apologize, and perhaps even embrace our misunderstood rodent friends. (The Cut article about rats in New York)

In the beginning of this year Marc Jacobs teamed up with the acclaimed streetwear brand Stray Rats and released a limited edition collection of sweaters and t-shirts. The collection is fronted by none other than Frank Ocean. According to the campaign is paying homage to Marc Jacobs “Stinky Rat” collection from the early 2000s. This is also a subtle way of celebrating the “Year of the Rat” for Lunar New Year. (The Zodiacal Rat is the first of the animals in the 12-year cycle)

As we all know rats have had a pretty bad rep around town for several years. From being falsely accused of causing the plague to being depicted as evil in movies. Stray Rats actively plays with the general opinion on rats, and their dirty reputation. But now, as the brand has entered a new arena of luxury, I expect attitudes towards these innocent rodents to change. 

And if I’m allowed to take this even further I would suggest maybe the rats' revenge is a metaphor for my own transition from trashy Paris city girl to hip marketing student.

Speaking of rats entering the bougier parts of contemporary culture, we must not forget Katharina Fritsch. Fritsch, who’s larger than life fly-statue infamously got knocked over at Art Basel last year, also had an exhibition in Los Angeles last month. Her magnum opus (imo) is her sculpture “Rattenkönig (Rat‑King),” from 1993. The sculpture consists of a circle of 16 enormous rats and a knot of entangled tails. The term Rat-king comes from the mythical phenomenon with rat tails getting entangled, and are associated with various superstitions, and especially associated with plagues. But, okay! Back to Katharina! Fritsch’ statue shed a new light on something that has long been considered disgusting and ugly, and introduced rats (and flies and mice) to art-finery culture.

Lastly, there is actually something we can learn from our sewer friends in this time of crisis. At this time we need empathy and kindness more than ever. Rats just so happen to be extremely loyal, empathetic and kind to one another, according to a recent study published in the journal of Current Biology and National Geographic.

Not only is this the time to embrace rats and their aesthetics, but to forgive them. Given the on-going pandemic, and the frightening lack of empathy from some politicians *cough* ; we are now, more than ever, in need of empathy and compassion. 2020 is the year of the rat. 

- Olivia Brask

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