Monday, 14 March 2011

La Vache Qui Rit

Wordplay-Parody Turned into Aesopian Symbol – The Relation between the Valkyrie and Mubarak

Thanks to globalization, the motive of the red laughing cow on the round carton cheese package, has become familiar to the inhabitants of 120 countries. Jules Bel started to produce this milk product by the end of the 19th century on the French side of the Jura. The artist, Benjamin Rabier designed the first laughing cow for the competition organized by Bel who was searching for a product-label.
The name “la vache qui rit” is originally derived from a French wordplay which mocked the food transport of the German army during World War I –called “Walküre” (i.e. “Valkyrie” in French). The divine heroine of the Norse mythology was therefore brutally turned into a happy cow and exposed to laughter in hostile lands.
However, this is not the end of the story: Egyptian Aesopian speech which was aiming to foment resistance against Mubarak’s authoritarian regime during the last decades, integrated the laughing cow into its vocabulary. “La vache qui rit” in written satire and caricature came to represent the ex-president Mubarak.
In conclusion: the Norse divinity Valkyrie was turned into a laughing cow, at the beginning of the 20th century and –in this new guise– came to represent the Egyptian president, one hundred years later. Which means that a logo, designed after the parody of a popular etymology was employed anew as Aesopian emblem of resistance against oppression. In the first place, a symbol of strength of the enemy was mockingly debased, in the second step, the outcome and commercialization of even that parody, was used to degrade a representative of arbitrary and corrupt rule. This is how the happy, red cow successfully laughed about two menacing power- constellations.
On the Opera Square, stands a sign which should draw the drivers’ attention to traffic lights. This somewhat useless indication to traffic lights, which do not exist on or near the square, was turned into the support for a logo of the Mubarak opposition: a crossed-out picture of the laughing cow.

Traffic sign with the "la vache qui rit" anti-Mubarak propaganda sticker on the Opera square

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