Animal Inventory Blog

Keeping track of animals in popular culture.

Archive for August, 2007

New Additions to Animal Inventory

Posted by lisagbrown on August 23, 2007

In the coming weeks, you’ll see new additions to this blog. These will include an author biography, an academic programs listing, people of interest links, among others. These new features are designed to make this blog as much a resource for human-animal studies as it is a forum for discussion about animals. I welcome input about programs or people who ought to be included in these new threads. Feel free to post suggestions about alternative lists, links or ideas that would help to make this a more comprehensive site for people in the field of human-animal studies.

As always, please share this URL with anyone who may be interested in the themes covered at Animal Inventory.

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Posted in Human-Animal Studies | Leave a Comment »

Dogfighting footballer Michael Vick

Posted by lisagbrown on August 22, 2007

Yesterday I caught a roundtable discussion on Sports Center about the Michael Vick dogfighting case. I was appalled by the lack of sensitivity, insight and awareness about the heinous violence associated with dogfighting, and indifference about the implications this ought to have on Vick’s career. Instead, the reporters pondered whether Vick would stay in shape during his imprisonment, and whether he would be too old to return to football after his three year sentence. Thankfully, Jon Stewart provided the voice of reason on his show last night. He condemned the inane banter of the sports analysts and highlighted the disturbing, horrific reality of dogfighting. As always, he did so with breezy irony and a wickedly sharp sense of humor.

Posted in Ethics, Public Policy, Television | 1 Comment »

Amores Perros — Love’s a Bitch

Posted by lisagbrown on August 18, 2007

Inarritu, Cuaron and del Toro
Gonzalez Inarritu is 1/3 of a holy trinity of contemporary Spanish-speaking filmmakers whose work is changing the way animals are depicted in film. Inarritu, along with Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men) and Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) are often grouped together because of their common language, cinematic themes, and their genuine friendship with each other. As this blog continues, I will periodically highlight their incredible work.

Amores Perros
Innaritu is now well-known for his 2007 film Babel. But his earlier release Amores Perros is an even grittier, more violent exploration of love, desperation and happenstance. Like Babel, Amores Perros is the intermingling of three seemingly unrelated stories that touch in unexpected ways. The most overt connection between the threads is the relationship between each main character and his or her dog. In the first story, a young man decides to enter his rottweiler in local dogfights in order to win money to rescue his abused sister-in-law. In the second story, a gorgeous fashion model carries her dog everywhere like an accessory until an accident and the dog’s disappearence reveal to her the importance of their friendship. In the final tale, an assassin questions his career when he sees a glimpse of himself in the dog he adopts.

Inarritu treats these human-animal relationships with respect and honesty. Without sentimentalizing or anthopomorphising, he manages to portray the truth about the friendship between people and dogs. What he seems to be telling us is that this beautiful kind of friendship can also be visciously brutal. Innaritu has created over 2 and a half hours of film that is difficult to watch because of its violence and death. Unlike many filmmakers who show interspecies friendships as childish, Inarritu values the human-animal bond as a legitimate and entirely adult emotion, fraught with the same complexity (and sometimes barbarity) as human relationships.

Inarritu rarely judges his human characters, even when they seem to warrant it. He simply depicts them, like he shows other animals, as the flawed creatures they are. He allows his characters to be vulnerable yet dignified, corrupt yet genuine. What becomes silently, flawlessly, astonishingly clear is that Inarritu has given us the opportuinty to see his characters through the eyes of their dogs. Inarritu points his camera lens through the filter of the unconditional love of his canine characters and as a result, we see people who are flawed, but ultimately loveable. We may want to condemn these people outright for their heinous actions, but how can we, when the animals they’ve mistreated still find decency in them? When all is said and done, it is a sobering point of view for both the audience, and the human characters themselves.

Posted in Film, Human-Animal Bond | Leave a Comment »

Animalities

Posted by lisagbrown on August 15, 2007

In celebration of handing in my Master’s thesis this morning, I’m posting the introduction. At some point I hope to link to the entire document, a curriculum for a graduate course in animals, art and public policy, but I haven’t figured out how to post a PDF on blogger yet. So in the meantime, here’s a taste:

There was a moment during this project that I realized I had made a life altering choice. It was when I read Carol Adams’ foreword to Steve Baker’s Picturing the Beast: Animals, Identity and Representation. I only read her foreword after I read Baker’s book in full, after the bulk of my research for this course was finished, after I had written extensive lecture notes about animals in movies and paintings, photos and comics. I am backwards like this sometimes. But had I read the foreword when I was supposed to – at the very beginning – I would not have made the astounding discovery that I did. I might not have realized how significantly I had changed the direction of my life. For this I am grateful that I sometimes do things a bit backwards.

Adams decides to live one single day with “Baker-like awareness (p xii).” She spends a day with her eyes and mind open to representations of animals. She sees a mother bird on her child’s homework assignment; Winnie-the-Pooh on a sun glare reflector in a car; interstitial teletubbies on TV. It is in her recounting of the “Steve Baker perspective (p xii)” that I finally realized how the development of this course design has changed me: I have chosen to live inside the whirlwind of awareness. Quite simply, I have chosen to see. A trip to the supermarket has become an intellectual feast of animal imagery in packaging and advertising. Television has changed from banal entertainment to a virtual reality of brightly illuminated commentary on animal representations. A simple car ride has been transformed into a roller coaster of billboards that cry out for new ways to understand the animals in our culture. They are everywhere all at once, our imagined, pictured animals, hoping to be recognized and understood. There is so much to see and hear that a deaf-blind epidemic seems to have struck hard and fast at the very heart of our culture. The remedy is Baker-like awareness. With tentative movements towards seeing and hearing, the vibrancy of conversation between animal representations, our culture, our public policy and our art can begin to come alive.

In a single frame of artwork I see human-made categories confirmed or revised: a cow busting out of her role as meat and milk; a dog settling sadly into the stereotype of aged witness and friend. I see anthropomorphism and anthropocentrism played out in graphic form. In every celluloid and paper moment, concepts, discourses and assumptions rise up off the frame like colorful 3-dimensional components of a 2-dimensional world. Each image is a landscape of words and ideas, if only we could see.

How do we learn to see? Thankfully, I already have the answer. In my own backwards way, I developed the answer before I even knew the question. The question is ‘how do we see?’ The answer is the course that follows.

Posted in Art, Representations | 1 Comment »

Our American Eagle Identity

Posted by lisagbrown on August 8, 2007

The bald eagle was chosen as America’s national bird in 1782 as a symbol of the strength and resilience of the American people. Its image became an icon of US spirit, a visual representation of our national identity. In particular, the bald white face of the eagle has come to symbolize the face of the US military, the government, and policy makers. It is an icon whose power stems in large part from the image the US hopes to present to the rest of the world.

The bald eagle is a fearsome warrior, a bird who instills fear in its prey, who hunts with grace and majesty. Its strength of character and skill in the art of the hunt make it an ideal symbol for a country that aims to project such qualities. At least, it used to be. It used to be all these things until we discovered that it is not. Ornothologists have recently realized that the bald eagle is not at all the type of animal we thought it was. In fact, our national symbol has qualities that more closely resemble the common vulture than it does the persona we had envisioned. Rather than demonstrating sophisticated hunting prowess, the eagle generally feeds on carrion left by other predators. It scavanges campgrounds and garbage dumps. Any hunting it engages in usually involves trout, salmon, or other fish — hardly the stuff of a feared warrior.

But just as our perception of the bald eagle is changing, so too has world-wide perception of the US. And so, too, is our cultural identity changing. Though the bald eagle is not who we thought it was, does our new understanding of the bird make it any less appropriate as our national image? Perhaps we would not describe ourselves as opportunistic vultures, but given the state of our international affairs, the identity ascribed to our old vision of the bald eagle doesn’t seem accurate either. As we begin to learn and accept the truth about our national bird, perhaps we ought to turn the lens of scrutiny back towards our nation and reflect upon our own truths.

Posted in Identity, Representations | Leave a Comment »

Tipping

Posted by lisagbrown on August 7, 2007

Scrawled in black sharpie on a white bucket next to the cash register at the Upper Crust pizza shop in Brookline:

“Tipping… Not just for cows anymore”

Posted in Advertising, Representations | Leave a Comment »

Religion is like a cow

Posted by lisagbrown on August 6, 2007

The Brighton Allston Congregational Church has an outdoor bulletin board on which they post inspirational phrases, presumably to attract new churchgoers. This week the board reads:

“Religion is like a cow … It kicks, but it gives milk too.”

It is difficult to find meaning in this nonsensical phrase, but I’ll go out on a limb. The assumption is that religion, like a cow, is available for human use. Learn to use religion properly and it will provide you with sustenance, but it can also provoke painful self-reflection. The cow can be utilized for milk production, but can inflict damage as well. Most important in this confusing message is the complicated relationship between a cow — a living, breathing, thinking, feeling, self-motivated being — and religion — an inert, anthropogenic tool. They are presented as equivalent methods of human progress, yet they could not be further apart. A cow is a unique individual who exists whether or not she is used as a product by humans. Religion is a generalized concept that can not exist without humans.

The author may have simply been seeking a smart turn of phrase to grab attention and was probably trying to reveal more about religion than about cows. However, this is a great example of how cultural assumptions about animals (as utilitarian tools) can hide in the most obscure places.

Posted in Advertising, Religion | Leave a Comment »

Welcome to Animal Inventory

Posted by lisagbrown on August 5, 2007

Animals show up in the strangest places. On TV a cow tells audiences to buy pork, in the movies a pig herds sheep, and a shampoo brand is marketed via the image of a kangaroo. Who are these animals? What do they mean to us? What do we gain (or lose) by utilizing their representations?

Most people don’t think about the many animals that inhabit their life, unless they consider household pets or nuisance wildlife. Yet aside from dogs, cats, and the occassional squirrel, most communities are populated by a varied group of animals through advertising, packaging, movies, books, TV and many other mediums. Boundaries like wild and tame, food and friend, companion and pest are challenged in the strangest ways every day. Animal representations have been manufactured, deconstructed and reconstructed by humans until the animal’s original form is almost unrecognizable. Still, through these manipulations, it is possible to learn a great deal about how we view animals.

This blog is an attempt to pay attention to these animals, figure out who they are, why they exist, and what they reveal about how we see their living counterparts.

Posted in Advertising, Art, Ethics, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Public Policy, Representations | Leave a Comment »