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Seeing Species

Re-presentations of Animals in Media & Popular Culture

Debra L. Merskin

Animals are everywhere. They inhabit our forests, our fields, our imaginations, our dreams, and our stories. Making appearances in advertisements, television programs, movies, books, Internet memes, and art, symbolic animals do tremendous work for us selling goods, services, and ideas, as well as acting as stand-ins for our interests and ideas. Yet, does knowing animals only symbolically impact their lived experiences? Seeing Species: Re-presentations of Animals in Media & Popular Culture examines the use of animals in media, tracking species from appearances in rock art and picture books to contemporary portrayals in television programs and movies. Primary questions explored include: Where does thinking of other beings in a detached, impersonal, and objectified way come from? Do the mass media contribute to this distancing? When did humans first think about animals as other others? Main themes include examining the persistence of the human-animal divide, parallels in the treatment of otherized human beings and animals, and the role of media in either liberating or limiting real animals.

This book brings together sociological, psychological, historical, cultural, and environmental ways of thinking about nonhuman animals and our relationships with them. In particular, ecopsychological thinking locates and identifies the connections between how we re-present animals and the impact on their lived experiences in terms of distancing, generating a false sense of intimacy, and stereotyping. Re-presentations of animals are discussed in terms of the role the media do or do not play in perpetuating status quo beliefs about them and their relationship with humans. This includes theories and methods such as phenomenology, semiotics, textual analysis, and pragmatism, with the goal of unpacking re-presentations of animals in order to learn not only what they say about human beings but also how we regard members of other species.

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Chapter One: Introduction


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Chapter One


The use of animals for our purposes without consideration of their interests is so pervasive and our dependence upon it so great, it becomes invisible to us in much the same way that exploitation of women and minorities was invisible for too long.

—Rollin (1989/2011, p. 164)

Dad says people are arrogant about being smarter than animals because we have opposable thumbs but look what we messed up with our opposable thumbs.

—Doyle (2014, p. 87)

Why not animals?

—Light & McKenna (2004, p. 3) ← 3 | 4 →

Animals are everywhere. They inhabit our forests, our fields, our imaginations, our dreams, and our stories. Advertisements (Glenn, 2004; Lerner & Kalof, 1999; Spears, 1996), documentaries (Mills, 2010; Pierson, 2005), television programs (Berettini, 2005; Cabeza San Deogracias & Pérez, 2013; Mills, 2010; Pierson, 2005), news stories (Freeman, 2009), social media and video games (Cole & Stewart, 2014), and entertainment films such as Zootopia (Beaudine, Osibodu, & Beavers, 2017; Todd, 2016) and The Secret Life of Pets are filled with creatures great and small who are used primarily to tell stories about us. They serve as sports team and college mascots, symbols of holidays such as Easter and Thanksgiving, and as national, royal, and familial crests. The oldest known euphemistic term is one that refers to bears, recorded more than 1,000 years ago. It replaced a word that was, in...

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