Animal Inventory Blog

Keeping track of animals in popular culture.

Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

What about Michael Jackson’s Chimp, Bubbles?

Posted by lisagbrown on June 29, 2009

bubblesI guess I imagined that Michael Jackson’s chimp Bubbles still lived at the Neverland Ranch, that he was a member of MJ’s menagerie, or maybe that he had an enclosure in the King of Pop’s house.  To be honest, I never gave the matter much thought until Michael Jackson died last week and I found myself thinking, what about Bubbles?

It could be said that Jackson’s purchase of Bubbles (at age 3) in 1985 marked the beginning of Jackson’s decline into increasingly eccentric behavior. Bubbles made appearances in Jackson’s videos; he was present in the recording studio as Jackson recorded his album Bad; he even accompanied Jackson on a tour of Japan and they reportedly shared a hotel room.

By Jackson’s own account, he gave up Bubbles when his son was born, fearing that the chimp may become aggressive. But the real story is less clear. Some people report that there were many young “Bubbles'” over the years, or at the very least, there were a number of different apes that lived with Jackson. According to reliable sources, the reality is that the original Bubbles actually lived for most of his life with a trainer in California. And what is clear, is that in 2005 Bubbles was moved to the Center for Great Apes sanctuary, where he currently resides.

Last week I posted an interview with Charles Siebert whose book, The Wauchula Woods Accord, chronicles the sad lives of former entertainment chimps living in America. Siebert’s chimp friend Roger lives at the same sanctuary that Bubbles does, along with more than 40 other apes. To describe the story of Bubbles is to rehash the same heartbreaking tale that has been recounted again and again and again. Adorable baby chimps are purchased by the rich and put to work as actors and entertainers. They become adult chimps very quickly who are too strong to be around humans, and are then forced to spend the rest of their 50-55 years behind bars. I can’t help but wonder what will cause these stories to change.

The photo above shows a very young Bubbles with Michael Jackson in the mid 80’s. The photo below is by Joe Zammit-Lucia (whose work I highlighted in a blog entry a few weeks ago), and shows Bubbles as he is today. Joe is offering fine archival prints of the photo for purchase, and proceeds from the sales will go directly to The Center for Great Apes, where Bubbles lives. If you are interested in purchasing a print, click here to go to Joe’s web site. Alternatively, you can make donations directly at the sanctuary’s web site. To take care of all of their apes, it costs the sanctuary $16,000 per year, per chimp ($43 per day, per chimp).  


“Bubbles” by Joe Zammit-Lucia

To learn more about The Center for Great Apes, please click here.

To specifically learn more about Bubbles, click here.


Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Ethics, Human-Animal Bond, Photography, Primates, Representations, Television | 1 Comment »

Mine: Taken By Katrina

Posted by lisagbrown on April 19, 2009

n46819729090_171Mine: Taken By Katrina, is a new documentary by filmmaker Geralyn Pezanoski, about the effects of hurricane Katrina on human-animal relationships. The film follows a number of individuals who try to reunite with their animals after the natural disaster, and the tragic conflicts between people who have newly adopted the lost animals, and the original families who were separated from them.

Ever since hurricane Katrina occurred, the animal studies community has been teaching about the impact the disaster had on the way Americans think about relationships with companion animals, the intersections between race, class, and human and animal welfare, and also the way the government deals with animals during a natural disaster. This film is a way to bring this message to a broader audience, and has the potential to completely transform the way Americans understand the complicated, essential bonds between humans and animals.

Mine is already receiving attention and accolades, having won the audience award for best documentary at SXSW 2009. The film is showing on Saturday, April 25th and Sunday, April 26th at the Independent Film Festival Boston. (For tickets, go to IFFBoston.) For more information, visit Mine: Taken By Katrina, and watch the incredibly powerful trailer below.

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Cats, Dogs, Ethics, Film, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Public Policy, Representations, Television | 2 Comments »

Frogs: The Thin Green Line

Posted by lisagbrown on April 3, 2009

Just over a year ago, I wrote a post about Allison Argo’s Crash: A Tale of Two Species, a film about shorebirds and horseshoe crabs. I’m happy to say that Allison’s unique perspective on animals is back, this time on behalf of frogs. Frogs: The Thin Green Line premieres this Sunday, April 5th, at 8PM on PBS (check your local listings). As Allison explains in this sure-to-be stunning visual feast, dozens of frog species have completely disappeared over the last decade. This film is both her love letter to these strange amphibians, and also a murder mystery. Where have they gone? And what does their disappearance mean for other frogs and other animals … and for us?

Check the PBS website for a remarkable preview of this film.


Posted in Amphibians, Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Conservation, Ethics, Extinction, Public Policy, Representations, Television | 1 Comment »

Obama’s mutt

Posted by lisagbrown on December 12, 2008

obama_dog_pictureEveryone took notice when Barack Obama uttered his now famous words,

“Shelter dogs tend to be mutts, like me…”

It was a startling moment for many reasons. Had we ever heard a president-elect speak so self-deprecatingly? Had someone with such power ever spoken about companion animal issues to such a rapt audience? And finally, what did it mean for a person of mixed heritage — the president-elect, no less — to compare his own lineage to a dog’s? These were questions that felt too big to answer in a single blog entry, too daunting to address without serious rumination. Where would I even begin?

Thankfully, Frances Bartkowski has begun to peel back the layers of meaning behind Obama’s 8 small words. In her recent post on the Columbia University Press blog, Bartkowski suggests that to understand the power of this statement, one must recognize a new form of kinship that is emerging:

Aren’t we all, if we look closely or far enough back in our genealogies, mutts? …This is our object lesson, among others, whether to follow our curiosity and desire—to kiss, or to be led by our lesser selves toward animosity, what we sometimes like to cordon off as animality. Only by letting our human-animal borders become more porous can we let the future materialize out of our mixed pasts.

In Bartkowski’s view, Obama has revealed a way of bringing animals into the fold of family, and not just as individual companions. He has introduced a kind of shared ancestry among humans and nonhumans, one that integrates our history, if not our biology.

I believe Obama’s statement is one that people will turn to time and again for guidance, inspiration and contemplation, particularly those of us who work with or for animals. His 8 words are an endless meditation on race, individuality, animality, responsibility, history, welfare, and power.

To read Bartkowski’s full blog post, visit the Columbia University Press blog by clicking here. Bartkowski’s new book, entitled Kissing Cousins: A New Kinship Bestiary, is available on the site. Look for a review of the book on Animal Inventory in the coming weeks.

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Barack Obama, Dogs, Ethics, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Identity, Public Policy, Representations, Television | Leave a Comment »

Best of the Blogs…

Posted by lisagbrown on December 7, 2008

There is nothing I love more than perusing my favorite blogs. Too often, the medium of blogging gets a bad rap because anyone can have a blog (and almost everyone does!) But that’s not the medium’s fault. Just like there are terrible and wonderful books, movies and art, there are terrible and wonderful blogs, as well. You just have to know how to sift through the bad to find the good, and this can be an intimidating endeavor. I highly recommend every single one of the blogs listed on my blogroll, but I thought I’d highlight the ones I’ve been completely addicted to lately. Enjoy!


Antennae isn’t actually a blog (it’s a journal), but it’s full of fascinating articles, interviews, art and tidbits by many of the most influential contemporary animal/nature writers and artists. Download the current issue “Botched Taxidermy” as a PDF on their website.

This blog is authored by Vanessa Woods, a Bonobo researcher who is stationed at Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary in the Congo. Her blog is full of vibrant color photos, descriptions of her relationships with the bonobos and a no-holds-barred personal account of the politics of bonobo protection.

You may have noticed my previous enthusiasm for this blog, but it bears repeating. Daily Coyote is the day-to-day account of Shreve Stockton’s efforts to raise an orphaned coyote pup. Not only are her photos breathtakingly beautiful, but Shreve’s determination to chronicle this adventure responsibly (i.e., to reiterate that she will never again undertake an experience like this, and that coyotes are not meant to be pets) is commendable.

For a more intellectual and theoretical perspective on animals, check out the blog of Boria Sax, one of the stand-out powerhouses in the burgeoning field of human-animal studies.

Red Star Cafe is undoubtedly one of my all time favorite blogs. I like to imagine that I’m the only one who knows about this amazing treasure-trove of writing. I’m only sharing this little secret with you because I know you won’t tell anyone else about the intelligence, insight and originality with which they write about animals and nature in culture. Shh. Don’t tell. Our secret.

This blog is the ‘notebook’ of Boston-based writer and professor Steve Himmer. Steve posts his favorite highlights from blogs, books and more, and all of it is about nature, animals and writing. It’s a great source of inspiration, and a way to find hidden gems.

In the past, my own blog has been called, “wonderfully specific,” a compliment that I’d like to pass on to Taxidermy: Ravishing Beasts. It is a smart, engaging blog about the beauty, controversy, and power of taxidermy.

This bilingual blog by a Columbia University doctoral student combines her love of 18th century literature, contemporary American popular culture, and razor-sharp autobiography, into one big, diverse, delightful read.

Posted in Advertising, Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Birds, Cats, Comics, Conservation, Dogs, Ethics, Extinction, Film, Fish, Food Animals, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Identity, Literature, Music, Photography, Primates, Public Policy, Radio, Religion, Representations, Television, Theory | 3 Comments »

An interview with “An Engineer’s Guide to Cats” creator Paul Klusman

Posted by lisagbrown on November 17, 2008

With close to 3,000,000 hits on Youtube at last count, An Engineer’s Guide to Cats (video posted below) became an overnight internet phenomenon in mid 2008. “Guide to Cats” creator Paul Klusman documents his devotion to his three cats, Zoe, Ginger and Oscar, using a video camera and a little bit of humor. Since then, Klusman has expanded the cats’ video oeuvre with the addition of An Engineer’s Guide to Voting: Ginger for President, and others. In October, he was quoted in the New York Times for an article about men and cats, and below, Klusman was kind enough to answer my questions about the unexpected success of his “Guide to Cats.”


Animal Inventory: First of all, how are Zoe, Ginger and Oscar?

Paul Klusman: They are doing just fine. Their recent fame has not gone to their furry heads and they are still “kitties from the block.”

AI: How did you decide to make “An Engineer’s Guide to Cats?” More specifically, why did you choose to make a movie about your cats?

PK: “An Engineer’s Guide to Cats” is a derivative of an earlier film called “Oscar: The Artist Cat” and was made specifically for a short film festival in Australia called Sony Tropfest. This film festival requires all entries to be new films so I used some of the footage from “Oscar: The Artist Cat” combined with new footage and a new story to create “An Engineer’s Guide to Cats.” Sony Tropfest rejected the film so I put it on YouTube thinking that my friends and family could at least enjoy what I assumed to be a mediocre film. It did very little on YouTube for about the first two months and then exploded all over the internet in early April of this year. According to a website called, on Sunday, April 13, 2008 “An Engineer’s Guide to Cats” became the #1 viral video on the entire internet that day and repeated its #1 rating again the following weekend.

The decision to use my cats in my films is partially out of an affection I have for cats plus the fact that they are available 24/7 for filming. Also there is a unique challenge in extracting a story from cat behavior. It is simply impossible to make a cat do what it does not want to do, so you have to observe the cat’s behavior, capture it on video, and then build a story around the cat behavior. This often takes tremendous patience. I have hours and hours of boring cat video footage.

AI: Early on in the film you talk about “that guy … who has all those cats…” This description seems to reference a cultural stereotype that your audience is familiar with — and the indication is that nobody wants to be “that guy.” Can you explain who “that guy” is, and if people have accused you of being him? Do you think the film helps to transform the stereotype of “that guy?”

PK: I think “that guy” is characterized by a personality that allows him to interact with animals as well as humans. He may be more comfortable with his cats than humans and because of this some people can’t easily relate to him. The fact that my character is also a stereotypical engineer adds to this.

People don’t accuse me of being “that guy” as much as I claim it for myself. I don’t mind being seen as someone who counters the “macho” male stereotype that insists “real men” cannot like cats. I don’t know if the film transforms “that guy” but hopefully it demonstrates that it is ok to be “that guy.” The fact that TJ and I have both received many romantic inquiries from ladies all around the world indicates that it is not such a bad thing to be “that guy!”

AI: It is easy to find instances of humor being used in media when animals are involved. But usually, the artist is either making fun of the animal, or making fun of human affection for animals. You’ve managed to create an hysterically funny video that does neither. Was this a specific goal of yours? How did you achieve this?

PK: Humor was the primary goal, but I do believe in having respect for animals so I was very careful to make sure this was apparent in the film. I was particularly worried that people would view the “corporal cuddling” and “static electricity” scenes as mistreating the cats, so I made sure to include elements that demonstrated the cats were possibly annoyed but not harmed.

AI: I think that there has long been an impression that when something is funny, it’s not smart. For instance, comedies never win a Best Picture Academy Award. But I believe that comedians like Jon Stewart have introduced a kind of humor is easily identifiable as smart humor. “Guide to Cats” follows in this tradition, but with a twist. This is smart humor about human-animal relationships. Beyond making people laugh, did you hope to reveal a new perspective on the friendships between people and cats? Did anyone (aside from your cats) inspire you in the making of the film?

PK: I just liked the idea of showing single guys who like cats in a positive light and I suppose this is a bit of a new thing. Film has many examples of “a boy and his dog” or “the cowboy and his trusty horse” but “a guy and his cats” is unusual.

As for the humor, I do enjoy having many levels of humor including some that is obvious to all members of the audience and some that is harder to catch. From the comments posted about the video, many people are mystified by my character always wearing the same red shirt. One person commented that this is on purpose as a stereotypical characteristic of an engineer. At least one person gets the joke that is the red shirt and I think that is cool.

My interest in making films started when a buddy of mine quit his engineering job to attend film school. He showed me a short film he had made and it looked like so much fun I decided to try it, myself. I started experimenting with a video camera and computer editing and I found that it was not that difficult get a story from brain to video. At some point I stumbled across the films of Robert Rodriguez and researched his path to film making. I read his book “Rebel Without a Crew” where he emphasized making inexpensive films quickly and making many of them to learn the craft. I followed this philosophy and I am continuing to learn today.

AI: Why do you think this story resonated so strongly for viewers?

PK: It has cats.

…ok, seriously, aside from the humor I think it also has an innocence that people enjoy. I appreciate films that have “innocent” main characters like “O Brother, Where art Thou?” and “Napoleon Dynamite” and I am surprised there are not more of them in the market given the success of these films.

AI: Since the success of “Guide to Cats,” most of the videos you’ve posted on Youtube have been about your cats. Do you expect that your cats will continue to be your inspiration?

PK: I’ve got a series of “Engineer’s Guide” videos planned that will feature the cats in some minor role at least. It is fun to portray the cats as having human motivations and characteristics and once you get the hang of it this is not terribly difficult to do. Humans themselves are also fascinating creatures so I will expand to include more of them as well.

AI: What do you hope the trajectory of your career will be, and will animals continue to play a significant role?

PK: I would like to write and direct feature films as well as publish music and books. I’ve also thought about doing fun and educational videos about science and engineering. I think our country is starting to lose its competitive edge in science and engineering, and too many kids want to go for an MBA or become lawyers in my opinion. I’d like to use film to illustrate how much fun it is to understand how things work and how enjoyable the creative process of technical problem solving can be.

I will continue to have animals in my films but they may not always have a central role. My films will always advocate kindness and respect towards animals.

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animals, Art, Cats, Film, Human-Animal Bond, Identity, Representations, Television | Leave a Comment »

Animal Inventory TV, Episode 2: Christine & Kelsey and Zoe

Posted by lisagbrown on October 29, 2008

I’m pleased to announce that episode 2 of Animal Inventory TV is available for viewing.

In 1992, Christine was struck by two above-ground trains while walking her dog Kelsey in Boston. At the last possible moment, Kelsey pulled Christine out of the direct path of the oncoming trains. Christine was badly injured, but Kelsey’s heroic action likely saved her life. During her lengthy recovery process, Christine decided to devote her life to the welfare of dogs. Now, with the help of her greyhound Zoe, Christine is campaigning to end greyhound racing in the state of Massachusetts.

For more information, visit the Animal Inventory TV website.

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Dogs, Ethics, Film, Human-Animal Bond, Public Policy, Representations, Television | Leave a Comment »

Oprah: How We Treat the Animals We Eat

Posted by lisagbrown on October 16, 2008

Yesterday, Oprah did a show about the current treatment of farm animals in American agriculture. You can view the Concious Choices slideshow on her website, which recaps the episode’s most critical points. I strongly encourage readers to check out this educational slideshow. Many people are hesitant to learn about the reality of farm animal welfare because it feels easier not to know. However, Oprah (through correspondant Lisa Ling) manages to accurately document farm animal life without resorting to graphic imagery, sensationalism, or scare tactics. The slideshow is a sobering statement on the reality of farm animal welfare, but it also leaves viewers feeling empowered about the choices they make in what they eat. There are some very simple, accessible ways to support humane treatment of farm animals, even if you are a meat eater — namely, vote to ban the tiny crates that house pregnant pigs, veal calves, and chickens; purchase humanely raised meat and eggs; and support farmers who strive to create a more animal-friendly, sustainable business.

Check out the Concious Choices slideshow on

Photo: Oprah shows the crates that pigs, calves and chickens live in for all or part of their lives.

Posted in Animal Welfare, Animals, Ethics, Food Animals, Public Policy, Television | Leave a Comment »

Animal Inventory TV — Episode 1: May & Nebraska

Posted by lisagbrown on September 7, 2008

The Animal Inventory blog is pleased to announce the first episode of Animal Inventory TV! You can watch the episode below. For more information, visit the show’s website at

Posted in Advertising, Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Dogs, Film, Human-Animal Bond, Representations, Television | 1 Comment »

Animal Inventory … TV!

Posted by lisagbrown on August 23, 2008

It’s amazing to think that a year has gone by since Animal Inventory was born. (Click here to read the very first entry, Welcome to Animal Inventory, from August 5, 2007). I hope that I’ve lived up to my original goal with this blog, as stated in that very first entry: “to pay attention to animals … in advertising, packaging, movies, books, TV and many other mediums … figure out who they are, why they exist, and what they reveal about how we see their living counterparts.”

The best way I can think of to celebrate this milestone is to announce the launch of a new, exciting feature on Animal Inventory. I’m very proud to announce the forthcoming:

Animal Inventory TV

Animal Inventory TV is an in depth look at the valuable bond between humans and other animals — enduring relationships that bridge the species divide. Each episode profiles an animal and his or her person, and tells the story of a friendship that is both astonishingly unique, and utterly universal.

Episodes of Animal Inventory TV* will begin airing this September 2008, and can be found here on the Animal Inventory blog, on the Animal Inventory TV website, and on our Youtube channel.

*Animal Inventory TV is produced by Lisa Brown and Hannah Pillemer of YoshiMax Productions.

Posted in Animals, Human-Animal Bond, Representations, Television | Leave a Comment »