Posted by lisagbrown on November 23, 2007
As if you needed another reason not to read Maxim Magazine, the December 2007 holiday gift guide encourages readers to take aim at childhood icon and hero Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The “How to Hunt Rudolph” step-by-step guide points out gleefully that if the shock of a bullet wound in the reindeer’s lungs doesn’t kill him, “he’ll drown in his own blood.”
At the very least, I applaud the writer’s ability to connect real living animals with a culturally manufactured persona. The connection between real beings and fictional beings is a sophisticated leap that many people seem incapable of making (a perfect example of this is the lack of chagrin over the cartoon imagery of cows and pigs who sell their own meat on food packaging and in TV commercials.) However, I hesitate to give any credit to a writer (or magazine) that takes such joy in the suffering of a living creature. Note the writer’s careful use of tone: the piece is written with enough useful information to be helpful to a hunter, yet with just the right amount of irony and bravado to claim that it’s a joke, if animal rights activists protest the magazine.
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Posted by lisagbrown on November 11, 2007
A number of years ago I noticed an unusual trend. It seemed to me that every few months a new animal would become the trend du jour. I’m referring to the strange phenomenon whereby a particular species of animal becomes hip. Every knick-knack shop in the neighborhood becomes overrun by the image of a monkey. Or a wolf. Or an owl. Images of the animal appear on clothing, journal covers, home furnishings, even dinnerware. The animal is absolutely everywhere, often at the extreme exclusion of any other species. Even the nature section of the bookstore tends to reflect these trends, suddenly exploding with must-have tell-all books about the species-of-the-moment. I’m sure this phenomenon has occurred for decades–even centuries–but I can trace my own awareness of it to the proliferation of Paul Frank monkey paraphernalia about four or five years ago. (Full disclosure – I’m not immune to the lure of monkey products. I own a number of Paul Frank goods.)
This afternoon I discovered the Next Big Thing. According to the December 2007 issue of Lucky Magazine, panthers are It. With sincerity and delight, the magazine informs its readers that, “This jungle cat signifies luxury, much the same way zebra or leopard prints do, but with an added twist of menace. Its sinuous shape is appearing on a wide range of items, and whether on a diamond-encrusted pendant or a simply cut cotton tee, the effect is elegant, slightly dangerous, and fabulously rich.” The magazine goes on to describe the panther as a “leaping predator,” “majestic,” “lurking,” “slinking,” and “snarling.” I don’t know much about big cats in general, but I definitely understand the way that Lucky is trying to sell the animal to me by both reinforcing and defining the panther’s traits. Most specifically, Lucky highlights a definitive relationship between the panther and wealth. Perhaps this will drive the audience into stores on a quest for panther goods, so that they can project the kind of luxury and majesty the panther embodies.
You can thank me later for informing you of this trend so early on. In the months to come, as you wear your pantherized nouveau riche status on a chain around your neck (and embody the alarmingly sexualized sinuous qualities of that slinking cat), just remember who told you about this trend in the making. And when panthers start appearing on pillowcases, lampshades and coffee mugs, you can feel confident in the fact that you knew the animal way back when, before its 15 minutes of fame, before it got rich and started hanging with the Hollywood jet-set, way before the panther was It.
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Posted by lisagbrown on November 9, 2007
This past weekend I had the great pleasure of attending the annual conference of the Society for Literature, Science and the Arts in Portland, Maine. The theme of the conference was “coding” and I spoke on a panel with Ronnie Copeland and Bill Lynn. Ronnie presented, “What’s in a Name? Animal Fantasies and Animal Autobiographies or Blatant Anthropomorphism? Naturalist Novels of Nature Fakers? Sentimental or Subversive?” Bill presented a paper entitled, “Coding Wolves.” I presented my paper, entitled, “The Speaking Animal: Graphic Novels and the Voices of Nonhumans.” (An abstract of each paper is available on the SLSA website, along with a full program of the weekend’s events.)
Our presentations generated a dynamic and spirited discussion about the authenticity of the animal voice in fiction. Some audience members clung to the notion that anthropomorphism is a dirty word. This perspective is not uncommon, so while it was frustrating to have to defend the concept of inhabiting the mind of an animal, it was also useful to be reminded that anthropomorphism is a tool which meets resistance, even within the animal studies community. Those voices of dissent against our panel represented people who believe that the nonhuman experience of life is so foreign to our own that it is impossible for us to relate to them in any genuine way. I find this perspective very limiting, both artistically and politically. The audience members seemed to suggest we don’t have the imagination to explore what it might be like to be a nonhuman. I agree that a dog has a very unique way of seeing the world because of his or her reliance on olfactory sensations, but it would be sad to think we couldn’t even imagine such a unique way of seeing. The disquieting perspective of our human audience members relied very heavily on the differences between humans and nonhumans, and all but extinguished the similarities. This world view has the potential to extend beyond the creative realm and enter into very real policy concerns. How could we pretend to make laws, policies or decisions that claim to be in the animals’ best interests, if we cannot imagine what those interests might be? This is a circular and dangerous form of logic that can potentially threaten the limited progress we’ve made on behalf of animals.
Nevertheless, this discussion was just the start of a compelling weekend which brought together scholars from many different disciplines. With many thanks to conference organizer Susan McHugh (University of New England) animals played a significant role in panels and presentations throughout the conference. Watch my blog in the coming weeks for more information about some of the incredible people I met and heard throughout the weekend.
Posted in Human-Animal Studies, Literature, Representations | 1 Comment »