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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 Four: Re-presenting Animals in Popular Culture


| 85 →

Chapter Four

Re-presenting1 Animals in Popular Culture

I think we love animals as images because we miss them in the flesh, and I think we love them as images because they matter to us spiritually in we ways we cannot hope to articulate.

—Doyle (2014)

Film has changed both how we see animals and how we think them.

—Brower (2003)

Film and television are some of the best tools society possesses to protect the environment and encourage conservation.

—Palmer (2015, p. xiii) ← 85 | 86 →

Geiko uses a Gecko to sell insurance. Coca-Cola? Polar bears. Lazy-Boy advertisements feature raccoons checking out recliners. Families of yellow labs “drive” Subarus and deal with the same family challenges and relationship issues as humans do. What Eddie Bauer or Lands’ End catalog would be complete without golden retrievers in front of the fireplace? But dogs don’t wear sweaters or buy adventure gear. These critterly casts of characters populate contemporary advertising for products that have nothing to do with animals. In an Orangina commercial a scantily clad animated doe/woman hybrid dances suggestively with a bear (who wears a fig leaf). In an advertisement for Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium fragrance, Emily Blunt slinks through an opulent apartment. She enters a room in which a lounging leopard rises—they meet, eye to eye (see Chapter 8 for more on this). Chimpanzees are so common in commercials that people think...

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