Gastautorin Edith Podhovnik ist Lehrende am Studiengang Journalismus und PR. Seit 2011 schreibt sie, hauptsächlich in russischer Sprache, als Komar28 einen Blog über interkulturelle Kommunikation, Kulturen und Sprache und publiziert regelmäßig Essays über russische Kultur und Literatur in russischen Onlinemagazinen. Für Feuilletonsern.at schrieb sie einen Beitrag auf Englisch – how crocodiles found their way into popular culture.
“See you later, alligator” – “After ‘ while, crocodile” are catchy phrases of a catchy song now used in everyday language. For some reason, unknown or not, crocodiles have found their way into popular culture, sometimes as the beauties but a lot more often as the beasts.
Almost regardless of culture, the mighty reptile has hunted and eaten its prey in world literature. Apart from art in Egypt, India and Australia, where the proximity to crocodiles obviously inspires the imagination with crocodile gods and other mystical creatures, crocodiles also appear in German, English, and Russian cultural histories.
Already before Schnappi hit the TV screens and conquered the world in various languages with his song “Schni, Schna, Schnappi, das kleine Krokodil”, crocodiles terrified children and perhaps even adults. On stage alongside the figure of Kasperl, the crocodile has long been part of literary tradition in Austria and Germany, and people who do not know that the bad crocodile is usually hunted and beaten up by the good Kasperl are scarce, and one does not have to search far and wide in children’s literature to stumble across a bad crocodile.
Crocodile and Kasperl on Stage
Yet, there is an exception. In “Das kleine Krokodil und die große Liebe”, the crocodile is a nice, sweet character who falls in love with a big giraffe. The two finally overcome big obstacles to live happily ever after. Finally, a “one up” for the crocodile.
But not only in children’s books but also in German poetry, the crocodile has staked its claim as a literary figure. An example for a crocodile in rhymes is “Das Krokodil aus Singapur” by Hermann von Lingg. While the crocodile in the poem is not entirely lovely, it is at least not portrayed as a beast. And that means perhaps a “half one up” for crocodiles.
In English popular culture, the crocodile also appears in children’s stories. Roald Dahl’s “The Enormous Crocodile” is like many other of its reptile colleagues a big, bad meanie, terrorising and eating his neighbours. Like very often in literature, poetic justice, which rewards the good guys and punishes the bad, creates a suitable bad ending for the crocodile. If a statistics were made about the figure of crocodile as the beauty or the beast, the scale would most likely be tipped towards the end representing the beastly portrayals.
The crocodile features also as the beast in Urban Legends, which are seemingly true stories usually heard from a friend of a friend. Here the monster crocodile is hunting its prey in New York’s sewers, on Florida’s golf courses, or on Australian beeches. These stories do not come as a surprise. Where people live together with crocodiles, there is a lot of crocodile lore, not only in written form. There are even photos showing a caught crock with a dead fisherman gobbled up earlier, a ghastly but obviously suitable representation of a terrible beast.
Crocodiles have inspired even great Russian authors, like Dostoevsky, who wrote a short story called “The Crocodile” (Крокодил). In brief, a man is swallowed up alive by a crocodile and continues to live inside it because no one can afford for the crocodile to be cut up. While the crocodile, therefore, is still a beast, it is at least allowed to live.
Russian culture treats crocodiles nicely anyway. With the cartoon character Crocodile Gena (Крокодил Гена), a wonderful figure has been created. A hero in an animated series of the 1960s, Crocodile Gena is a cultural legend in the Russian speaking world, Gena and his friends are known and liked by almost everyone, and his birthday song (Пусть бегут) is famous even today. And, what is good for the reputation of all crocodile heroes, Gena is a good, warm-hearted, loving crocodile who is always there for his friends, which is another “one up” for crocodiles.
Staying in Russian cultural consciousness, poems must not be forgotten. Children’s poems, like “Crocodile” by Tchukovskij (Krokodil, Крокодил), are very much part of literary tradition. And also another literary form takes its title from the reptile. The satirical journal “Crocodile” was founded early in the 20th century and is still published after a few hickups in the early 2000s under the new name “New Crocodile” (Новый Крокодил). While strictly speaking the journal’s stories do not fit the category of literary portrayal of crocodiles, the journal deserves a place in any description of crocodiles in literature because the title “Crocodile” keeps the animal in people’s minds.
The beauty or the beast, that is the question. Unfortunately for crocodiles, literature and culture have already given the answer to that. The crocodile is undoubtedly the beast. Its teeth and jaws are probably too much for humans to like. And with movies like “Monstercrock vs. Supergator” or even the more harmless “Crocodile Dundee”, the crocodile does not stand a chance to become a beauty.