One of the most remarkable features of our domesticated races is that we see in them adaptation, not indeed to the animal’ s or plant’ s own good, but to man’ s use or fancy.’
I remember following the white rabbit in order not to be late, I grieved with Bambi for losing his mother after being hunted by a human, I felt joy while watching Skippy the kangaroo and I felt the adventure while watching flipper. All these animal characters have one thing in common, they where anthropomorphized by our media. The term anthropomorphism is regarded as giving “human characteristics to a nonhuman object or being such as a plant, animal, geological feature, or deity”(Mercadal, 2017). Sadly through the tragic sea world incident where an Orca trainer lost her life, reminded our society that we have forgotten that animals will behave like animals, and as humans we are shocked when tragic incident with animals surface. The well-awarded documentary Blackfish (2013) directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, left us with a lingering question, is it right for human beings to give animal’s human traits?
Growing up in our society we are constantly bombarded with cartoons, books and movies that use animals for entertainment. A great example of this is Walt Disney; as soon as they started using the technique of animation they made “animals – even trees and flowers – talk, walk, sing, dance and dress like the human beings” (DoRozario, 2006,p.51). Disney had started to blur the binary opposition of “nature and culture”(DoRozario, 2006,p.51), producing a kind of hyper-environmentalism. Disney created animation to present an illusion of life through pictures “to connote as the real”, or posing the “unreality as real”(DoRozario, 2006,p.51). By taking and luring the real and unreal with animals, Disney had freed them from their “real oppression” (DoRozario, 2006,p.52). Donna Haraway (cited in DoRozario, 2006,p.52) states the boundary between human and animals “is thoroughly breached”, for example the popular character Tiomon from the movie The Lion King, “became more real then the real meerkats” (cited in DoRozario, 2006,p.52). Especially after witnessing a small child at the zoo scream out “look there’s Timon!” Instead of saying look there’s meerkats . In a sense the animation striped away the meerkat nature, to create a new reality made by the cartoon. Serpell (2002,p.438) states this is due to people believing that animals have feelings just like us. To the point where we assume that other objects and animals will behave the same way (Serpell, 2002,p.438).
Its no surprise that filmmakers like Disney use this technique of anthropomorphism on animals in order to help humans apply aspects of human qualities to non-human objects, by using the human language to communicate what we observe (Serpell, 2002,p.438). Animators of Disney where sent to study animals in order to gain details and characteristics of the animal.This was particularly done for the release of The Lion King in 1994 and Bambi, in order to create likeness and personality . However by using anthropomorphic depictions of animals can lead to real life consequences. For example young children already have difficultly trying to distinguish reality from fantasy (Goldman, 2014). Children tend to get confused between the two qualities depicted of that animal, making it harder for the viewer to relate to the real (Goldman, 2014). Illustrating that animals lose their natural identity to us, as a wild animal. A consequence that was demonstrated through the tragic incident at sea world, where the company and trainers forgot about the natural qualities of that animal. Instead they choose to look and make decision about them based on human traits, such as linking their characteristics with our emotions. The authors of ‘Considering Animals’ (2011) illustrates that even though we cannot actually feel what the animal is feeling, we make assumptions that the animals is capable of having feelings in the first place (Freeman & Leane & watt, 2011,p.82). Thus creating a dangerous outlook when regarding the nature of animal’s behaviours.
Anthropomorphism carries the risk that we overestimate animal’s mental complexity (kesling, 2011). This is a growing concern for scientist, who state this type of thinking can be problematic for animal trainers and behaviourists ,who may be evaluating behaviour problems based on human traits (kesling, 2011). Suggesting the implication of anthropomorphism on animals, has damaged our view of what really occurs in nature. DeWall (2001) mentions the idea of ‘bambification’ is a way for the entertainment businesses to strip away animals bad characteristics, while empowering them with baby appeal for the spectator. Thus seeing society neglecting the natural world (cited by Kesling, 2011).
It is easy to make an assumption about any animal’s behaviour regarding what we see on films and TV, when compared to what happens in real life. Especially when we compare their behaviours to our own. There is a serious danger and risk involved when using anthropomorphism towards our animals in Films and TV shows. It gives children and adults a false illusion , a stimulation, to believe what they see on our screens. Anthropomorphism allows the hypereal to become more real then real, meaning we might just want to save the character Bambi on screen first then the real deer (DoRozario, 2006,p.63).
I would love to hear your thoughts , do you think we have taken anthropomorphism too far on your TV screens? or is it a good idea ?
As always all the best
- DoRazario, RC 2006, ‘The Consequences of Disney Anthropomorphism: Animated, Hyper-Environmental Stakes in Disney Entertainment’, Femspec, vol. 7, no. 1, p. 51-63
- Freeman, C, Leane, E, & Watt, Y 2011, Considering animals : contemporary studies in human-animal relations / edited by Carol Freeman, Elizabeth Leane, and Yvette Watt, Farnham, Surrey, England ; Burlington, VT : Ashgate Pub., c2011.
- Goldman, J 2014, When Animals Act Like People in Stories, Kids Can’t Learn, Scientific American, viewed 24th May 2017, <https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/thoughtful-animal/when-animals-act-like-people-in-stories-kids-cane28099t-learn/>.
- Kesling, J 2011, Anthropomorphism, double-edge sword, WordPress, weblog post, 21st May, viewed 24th March 2017, <https://responsibledog.net/2011/05/21/anthropomorphism-double-edged-sword/>.
- Mercadal, T 2017, ‘Anthropomorphism’, Salem Press Encyclopedia.
- Serpell, JA 2002, ‘Anthropomorphism and Anthropomorphic Selection—Beyond the “Cute Response”‘, Society & Animals, vol. 10, no. 4, pp. 437-454