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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 Two: Animal Media Studies

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| 33 →

Chapter Two

Animal Media Studies

If I am to expect others to respect my life, then I must respect the other life I see, however strange it may be to mine. … Ethics in our Western world has hitherto been largely limited to the relations of man to man. But that is a limited ethics. We need a boundless ethics which will include animals also.

—(Albert Schweitzer)

To the degree that we come to understand other organisms, we will place a greater value on them, and on ourselves.

—Wilson (1984)

To cause animals to suffer cannot be defended merely on the grounds that we like the taste of their flesh, and even if animals were raised so that they led generally pleasant lives and were ‘humanely’ slaughtered, that would not insure that their rights, including their right to life, were not violated.

—Regan (1982, p. 1) ← 33 | 34 →

Are media theories only meant to apply to humans? Do media theories predict effects that would be useful to understanding other animals and our relationships with them? Is there a connection between studying media and thinking about nonhuman animals? This chapter explores these questions as well as presents a media studies perspective for thinking about how critiques of human use of other animals are consistent with those applied to similar analyses of gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, disability, age, and other markers of difference.

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