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ANIMALS AND SOCIETY: AN INTRODUCTION TO HUMAN-ANIMAL STUDIES Chapter 16: Animals in Literature and Film Copyright Margo DeMello and Columbia University.

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Presentation on theme: "ANIMALS AND SOCIETY: AN INTRODUCTION TO HUMAN-ANIMAL STUDIES Chapter 16: Animals in Literature and Film Copyright Margo DeMello and Columbia University."— Presentation transcript:

1 ANIMALS AND SOCIETY: AN INTRODUCTION TO HUMAN-ANIMAL STUDIES Chapter 16: Animals in Literature and Film Copyright Margo DeMello and Columbia University Press, 2012

2  We know that animals have played a major role in the symbolic behaviors of humans for thousands of years, through art, through religion, and through folklore and myth. As new ways of telling stories emerged, such as writing, and, later, film, of course animals continued to play a major role.  One of the earliest types of literature involving animals was the Medieval bestiary, which used animals as allegorical devices to convey moral lessons to readers of the time. Each animal included in the bestiary was described in terms of its personality and moral traits; the partridge, for example, was said to steal the eggs of others, and its “immorality” was held up as a characteristic to avoid. Most Europeans at the time could not read, so bestiaries were primarily used by clergy to prepare their sermons, while illiterate church members could follow along by looking at the pictures. ANIMALS IN LITERATURE

3  In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, as the human/animal border continues to crumble, writers have been grappling with a number of different issues through which animals can play a role. For instance, twentieth century writers like Franz Kafka use animality as a way to understand what it is that makes us human.  In his short story “The Metamorphosis” (1915), Gregor, the protagonist of the story, wakes up one morning to find that he is now an insect. As his appearance and behavior changes, his family begins to shun him, and eventually he dies of starvation and an injury caused when his father threw apples at him. Another Kafka story, “A Report to the Academy” (1917), has a chimpanzee narrating a story about how he became human. The chimpanzee, Red Peter, had found himself in a cage in the cargo hold of a ship, and realized that his only way out of the cage was to be human: “There was nothing else for me to do, provided always that freedom was not to be my choice” (258). In both texts, Kafka’s use of animals serves to destabilize the concept of humanity. ANIMALS IN LITERATURE

4  The twentieth century has seen a great deal of writing by women involving animals.  African-American Poet Maya Angelou’s autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” (1969) evokes a caged bird, beating its wings fruitlessly against the bars of his cage, crying to be freed.  Another African American writer, Alice Walker, wrote the short story “Am I Blue” (1989) about a horse named Blue, and her feelings of loss when her companion horse, Brown (who was brought to stay with her specifically to make her pregnant), was taken away. ANIMALS IN LITERATURE

5  Animals are an important vehicle in the early socialization of children. As children, we personify, anthropomorphize, and identify with animals. They also provide early practice with and models of relationships and the empathy, reciprocity, and negotiation skills that sustain those relationships. Because boys, in particular, have few ways to learn nurturing skills, animals are especially important in the socialization of boys.  For instance, children’s literature is filled with animal characters and animal imagery. Children’s books usually treat animals in one of two ways: either the animals represent attributes like love and loyalty yet remain strictly realistic or they interact with their fellow animals as humans interact with each other, by talking, dressing in human clothing, etc.  Contemporary children’s authors still use humans as models for animals. The late Richard Scarry once said he used animals to eliminate racial stereotypes, and also because children relate better to talking animals in stories than to talking children. ANIMALS IN CHILDREN’S LITERATURE

6  Since Aesop’s Fables, talking animals have been featured in both adult and children’s literature for thousands of years.  Eighteenth and nineteenth century satirists used talking animals to give voice to the concerns of the poor and downtrodden.  Other authors used speaking animals to express the suffering of the animals themselves. Anna Sewell’s 1877 novel Black Beauty, for example, is an autobiography told by a horse named Black Beauty. His narrative includes the stories of a number of horses that he meets, many of whom, like Black Beauty, suffered from the cruelty of their human owners. Sewell’s intent in writing the novel was to change the treatment of horses in American society. TALKING ANIMALS

7  The significance of nonhuman animals in human culture is evident by their ubiquity in movies and TV.  Imagine what the Disney brand would be today without Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Bambi, Dumbo, Simba the Lion King, and Nemo.  Or how our experience of the movies would have been different without the contributions of animal performers as diverse as Lassie, Babe the Pig, Cheetah the chimpanzee or Flipper. ANIMALS IN FILM

8 Why did this movie resonate so much with viewers?  Follows format of conventional documentary: focus on groups, voice over narration, no interference in lives of the animals  Themes resonate with human audiences: responsible parenting, communal spirit, the work ethic, deferred gratification, moral behavior, sexual division of labor in marriage  In fact, conservative commentators praised the film for promoting conservative family values  Film has emotional peaks and valleys, and thus draws viewers in  Film has narrative arc: penguins migrate inland; find mate; hatch egg; transfer egg to the males; females return to ocean to feed; chicks hatch; females return and get chicks back  Audience becomes emotionally invested in the survival of the species MARCH OF THE PENGUINS

9 Why did this movie resonate so much with viewers?  Babe was personalized—even though more than 30 pigs played him, he was turned into an individual via the hairpiece and the human voice  Plot follows conventional story line: Babe is first seen nursing from his mother, comes of age, and, after winning the sheep herding contest, gains social acceptance, and finds a surrogate father  Audience roots for Babe because he starts as an underdog  Babe’s key moral themes — treating others with courtesy and respect, overcoming prejudices, facing challenges, seizing opportunities, and so forth –are classic morals  The film angles also encourage the audience to root for him, as the film often uses Babe’s perspective when looking up at Hoggett  That humans eat ducks and pigs is a cold truth that Babe at first finds difficult to accept, but not one that he ultimately challenges or transforms. He simply, like the duck wants to, makes himself too useful to eat. So while it’s a victory for Babe, it is not a victory for any other animal. BABE

10  Animals are everywhere on TV: Animal Planet, National Geographic Channel, Nat Geo Wild, all feature animals 24 hours a day  Credit this nature-program explosion in part to a reality-show excessiveness that makes anyone who has ever owned or been bitten by an animal eligible to be featured on TV. Also credit the development of ultraportable video cameras, along with the development of a fresh army of camera operators patient enough to sit in trees or underbrush for days waiting for two creatures to mate.  Why do viewers love seeing animals on TV so much? ANIMALS ON TV

11  ANIMALS ARE ADORABLE. Any show with “dog” or “cat” in the title of course falls into this category. Also, “penguin.”  ANIMALS ARE WEIRD. Animal shows apparently believe they haven’t done their job if they haven’t made you go either “oooh” or “eeew.”  ANIMALS ARE JUST LIKE US. On these shows the narration, full of talk about rivalries and courtships and familial ties, could just as easily be laid over a documentary about the Kennedys or an episode of “Jersey Shore.” “Meerkat Manor,” Animal Planet’s docu-soap opera about a family of meerkats in the Kalahari Desert, set the standard for investing wild animals with human qualities.  ANIMALS WANT TO KILL AND OFTEN EAT US. The Animal Planet shows “I’m Alive” and “I Shouldn’t Be Alive” are full of true stories of people who were mauled by bears or shipwrecked in shark-filled seas. Nat Geo Wild’s coming “Swamp Men” follows an animal-control team that deals with alligators, crocodiles, snakes and the like that threaten humans in the Everglades. ANIMALS ON TV

12  Art historian John Berger (1980) suggests that the prevalence of animal images in modern society substitutes for a lost direct relationship with animals. This may very well be true and could account for the increasing popularity of nature films like Winged Migration and March of the Penguins and television shows about wild animals like Meerkat Manor.  But what are the implications of this? ANIMALS ON TV AND IN FILM

13  “ Film has changed both how we see animals and how we think about them.” Jonathan Burt  This is particularly true when we acknowledge the extent to which human understanding of animals is shaped by representations rather than by direct experience.  How we see animals on film changes how we view them in real life. We know that many films, television shows, or advertising campaigns involving animals often result in an explosion of adoptions or purchases of the animals depicted—and later, abandonments of those same animals.  In the 1930s, King Kong helped create a stereotype of man-eating gorillas that it took decades to undo  On the other hand, movies like Free Willy incited in the public an awareness of the plight of captive whales ANIMALS ON TV AND IN FILM

14  The Internet pumps out new adorable cat videos every day, many of them comic gems that rack up millions of viewers  Cats are the most popular household pets, but it took the ubiquity of video cameras (and help from the Japanese, who have never been shy about their feline fetish) to turn them into bona fide stars  Why are cats so popular on the internet?  They are unpredictable, not very trainable. They often live with nerds, who create some of the best Internet videos and sites. They are a brilliant blank slate. Cats are easy to make fun of, especially if they do things that are not very cat-like. THE INTERNET IS MADE OF CATS


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