The following is an article from the book Uncle John’s Perpetually Pleasing Bathroom Reader.
The stories behind several pretend cockroaches you may or may not be acquainted with. (And one that might not even be a cockroach at all.)
1. MUSICAL COCKROACH
La Cucaracha (“the cockroach” in Spanish) is the name of a Mexican folk song that you may remember singing as a kid (at least the “la cucaracha” part). The song’s exact origins are unknown. It goes back to at least the early 19th century and possibly much farther— even to 15th-century Spain. The song became popular during the Mexican Revolution (1910– 1920). Many of the best-known stanzas (there are hundreds) reflect revolutionary politics of that period, although the meanings of the lyrics are symbolic and satirical. (In other words, nobody really knows what they mean.) One theory is that the lyrics are meant to poke fun at leaders on both sides of the Revolution. Here’s one of the most popular stanzas, translated into English: “The cockroach, the cockroach / cannot walk anymore / because it’s lacking, because it doesn’t have / marijuana to smoke.” (That last line, believed to be a jab at President Huerta, who was known as a drunkard, is often changed to something more innocuous, such as “lemonade to drink,” when sung around kids.)
2. OPPRESSED ANIME COCKROACHES
The 1987 Hiroaki Yoshida anime/live-action film Twilight of the Cockroaches is about a community of intelligent cockroaches who live peacefully in the apartment of a human slob named Seito. (The cockroaches are anime; the humans are live-action.) But when Seito’s girlfriend moves in, she begins exterminating, and the cockroaches’ paradise becomes a nightmarish struggle for survival. According to Yoshida, the film’s cockroaches are a metaphor for the Japanese people, whom he deems a “hated species.” Washington Post reviewer Richard Harrington wrote that the film “could do for cockroaches what The Secret of NIMH did for rats: humanize them in ways you’d never have thought possible.” (That didn’t happen, as you may have noticed.)
One of the strangest scenes: The teenage cockroach heroine, Naomi, almost loses her life in a rainstorm, but is saved… by a pile of talking dog poop. Twilight of the Cockroaches was the inspiration for the 1996 musical film Joe’s Apartment, about a guy whose apartment is inhabited by singing, dancing cockroaches.
3. SAD ALIEN COCKROACHES
In the 1972 film Godzilla vs. Gigan (the 12th in the Godzilla series), aliens known as “Nebulons” invade Earth. They appear to be human, but they’re not human— they’re giant alien cockroaches disguised as humans! The Nebulons control the minds of two monsters— Gigan, a huge cyborg with a buzz saw in his belly, and King Ghidora, a three-headed dragonlike beast— and send them to destroy Tokyo. Luckily for the earthlings, the monsters are defeated by Godzilla. (Whew!) In the end we learn that the giant alien cockroaches only wanted a new home because their planet was destroyed by pollution created by that planet’s human inhabitants. Moral: Stop polluting Earth, humans.
4. BELOVED POET COCKROACH
On March 29, 1916, writer Don Marquis told readers of his daily newspaper column, “The Sun Dial” in New York’s Evening Sun, that when he arrived at the office one morning a few weeks earlier, he’d discovered a “gigantic cockroach jumping up and down upon the keys” of his typewriter. The cockroach did this for an hour, after which he scampered off. Marquis then looked at what the cockroach had written. It started like this:
expression is the need of my soul
i was once a vers libre bard
but i died and my soul went into the
body of a cockroach
The cockroach went on to request that Marquis leave a sheet of paper in the typewriter each night so that he (the cockroach) could continue writing. And he said they should call him “Archy.” So was born Archy the poet cockroach, whose philosophical observations of life (in free verse) would become a regular— and very popular— part of Marquis’s writing at the Sun, then at the New York Tribune, then at Collier’s magazine, and then in books (along with Archy’s best friend, an alley cat named Mehitabel) until Marquis died in 1937. But Archy and Mehitabel didn’t die with Marquis. The characters were adapted into songs in 1954, a Broadway musical in 1957, a TV show in 1960, an animated film titled Shinbone Alley, written by Mel Brooks in 1971. More than 75 years later, the books (with illustrations by George Herriman, creator of the Krazy Kat comic strip) are still in print.
5. ALIEN ROBOT COCKROACHES
In a 1996 episode of The X-Files, Agent Fox Muldur investigates the deaths of several people in a Massachusetts town who appear to have been killed… by cockroaches! Muldur meets a voluptuous entomologist named Dr. Bambi Berenbaum, who happens to be conducting experiments on cockroaches. He shows her a cockroach he found at one of the crime scenes. She looks at it through her microscope, and tells Muldur that the cockroach he found is a robot cockroach. Muldur thinks it’s actually an alien robot cockroach. (There’s more, but we thought revealing spoilers might bug you.)
6. ______ THE COCKROACH
This one is a quiz; answer at end of the article. This 11-foot-tall alien cockroach crashes his spaceship into a pickup truck on a farm somewhere in America. He then kills the farmer, uses the guy’s dead body as a disguise, and goes on a mission to find the Arquillian Galaxy. In the end, the cockroach tries to escape in another spaceship— but is shot down. Emerging from the wreckage, he rips off his human (dead body) disguise, and, now plainly an enormous cockroach, eats one of his assailants, who then shoots the big bug… from inside his stomach. The end. Now: Name that cockroach.
7. WELL-KNOWN LITERARY COCKROACH
Probably the most famous fictional cockroach is the one in Czech author Franz Kafka’s 1915 novel, The Metamorphosis. But is it really a cockroach? The story opens with the lead character, Gregor Samsa, waking from a fitful night’s sleep to discover, to his horror, that he has turned into an ungeheures Ungeziefer, usually translated into English as “monstrous insect.” But that’s a very loose translation. Ungeheures means “huge” or “enormous,” and Ungeziefer literally means “vermin.” Vermin could mean many things, including “bug” or “rat,” but we know Kafka meant “insect” because he describes the metamorphosed Gregor as having a carapace (an insect’s hard exoskeleton) as well as several legs (although he never says “six”).
In fact, Kafka never says what kind of insect. People assume he meant cockroach, and many English translations of the book refer to Gregor as a cockroach. But critics argue that this is wrong— and they have some fairly serious support: Author Vladimir Nabokov, best known for his 1955 novel, Lolita, was also a trained lepidopterist— an expert on butterflies and moths. Nabokov insisted that Gregor hadn’t turned into a cockroach— but a beetle. “A cockroach is an insect that is flat in shape with large legs, and Gregor is anything but flat,” he wrote in a lecture for his literature students at Cornell University in the 1940s. “He is convex on both sides, belly and back, and his legs are small. He approaches a cockroach in only one respect: his coloration is brown.”
Nabokov even made sketches of the bug, based on Kafka’s descriptions, and noted that an old woman in the book called Gregor a Mistkäfer— a “dung beetle.” (Although Nabokov said he thought that was incorrect.) So there’s a very good chance that the most famous fictional cockroach of all time wasn’t a cockroach at all. (Which, of course, would make him a fictional fictional cockroach.)
ANSWER TO NUMBER 6: Edgar the Bug, the bad guy in the 1997 film Men in Black, played by Vincent D’Onofrio. (Edgar’s cockroach brother, Edwin the Bug— voiced by D’Onofrio— appeared in several episodes of the animated Men in Black: The Series, which ran on the WB Network from 1997 to 2001.)
The article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John’s Perpetually Pleasing Bathroom Reader. The 26th annual edition of Uncle John’s wildly successful series is all-new and jam-packed with the BRI’s patented mix of fun and information.
Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!