Some light-hearted – yet also troubling? – news from the Associated Press: endangered Chinese pandas are on loan to Australia, and both states are urging them to make babies. Verbally urging. In speeches. Surely this is a no-fail solution, right?
Recently we have come to some great debates about visual media, tv shows and movies. Should we take them with a grain of salt, or a whole lot of salt? Was the work crafted with a superficial purpose such as entertainment or are they trying to strike a chord with everyone’s inner intellectualism?
In the beginning of our quest to find meaning on the Internet, Ms. Pugliese warned us to consider the source and look very closely into where the work we are studying came from. For example, if Jake’ s tv series on one hundred millions years later were to be created solely by graphic design students, we would take it differently than we did take a show with expert opinions by scientists at well-known universities.
I was pondering these questions alot as I revistited one of my favorites movies of all time, Ice Age. While it is extraordiarily funny and I still enjoyed that still, I watched the movie differently this time. There are many things that just do not seem right, and the reason they are there is for entertainment.
Here’s what I found that did not seem right:
- Scrat survives: this saber-toothed squirrel gets trampled, pummeled and frozen. He also clings to an acorn which he will never eat.
- All the animals migrate together: you see mammoths walking with turtles towards the South, away from the ice
- The hippo-esque animals play ‘extinction’
- The animals can all communicate (we will ignore this because it is a given in animal movies)
- The animals have a sense of purpose, trying to bring back the human
- A mammoth, sloth, saber-toothed tiger and a human baby form a conscious herd, and have each others backs
- The mammoth and sloth give the baby back to the humans, face-to-face
- The armored rhinos, although they are migrating south when they first attack Syd, are seen again in the ice
- The Dodo birds are aware of the ice age and think they can survive on three melons
- Diego the tiger betrays the other tigers to protect Manny
This is just a sampling. But Ice Age is a reminder to beware of your analysis. It is clear a humor and entertainment oriented film. The deepest meaning I could find is the idea of a very, very idealistic world in which animals can communicate and forge unbreakable friendships, have a sense of purpose and can interact with humans to a small degree. It is preposterous.
One dreaded SAT test that I took had a passage about how cats are different than dogs. I’m not sure exactly what it said, but based on my life, it should have been about cats and humans.
Take my cat for example. He sits on our chairs at the dinner table, tries to eat off the table and loves people food much more than he loves people food. I find that weird. He should eat that processed junk that all other cats has to eat, and he’s not gonna say please and thank you and eat with a knife and fork, he should not get to eat at the table. But he tries, again and again.
Then there is my aunt and uncles cat. He was too fat so they put him on a diet. He has specific meal times, with a specific amount of food that he gets. But once you go fat you can never truly go back, so he always begs for a handout. But he is not aggressive like my cat. This cat keeps all four on the floor as if to say, I’m hungry but I’m going to stay within the realm of cathood. But then again, this is coming from a cat who is not allowed to go outside (he has kitty AIDS and is therefore a menace to cat society) and has mealtimes.
On the other side of my family, another set of aunt and uncles have two cats. This is a house that I have lived in for a week at a time, and still have only seen the cats when their food bowl is empty of when I pursue them. Like my cat, they have a bowl of food that is continually filled and can be nibbled at when they please. But these cats don’t go for anything further. Do they just love the cat food? Hate the people food. Or are cats supposed to realize their place, and my cat is just wack? I would like to say it comes back down to nature vs. nurture, but we’ve had other cats that don’t act like this and my aunt and uncle’s (the unseen cats) have had a fairly similar upbringing.
I think, that it is therefore inevitable that all cats will eventually be like mine. He was named ‘Big’ for his size, but now I find it more reflective of his dreams. To start the long journey towards human traditions. After all, isn’t that what domestication is all about? Now they are just doing it for us?
I’m not sure we give cats enough credit as a species.
Apropos of what we’ll be discussing for much of next week, this episode of PBS’ Nature series discusses the relationship between humans and our classic domesticated pets – cats and dogs. Through expert interviews, a visit to a Humane Society shelter, and owner-bios reminiscent of the famous couple scenes from When Harry Met Sally, the show seeks to explain – or at least explore – the bonds between pets and their humans.
It’s easy to get indignant about humans domestication of certain animals – we’re asserting our dominance! we’re pretending we rule the globe! we’re stripping them of their natural wild natures! – it’s also important to remember that we evolved alongside our domesticated animals, both pet and pastoral, and through this coevolution we all have become different creatures. Marc Bekoff, a former Guggenheim fellow and Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UC Boulder who is interviewed extensively in the episode, explains that these bonds of coevolution are strengthened by the presence of mirror neurons in both humans and common pets – that is, dogs and cats. Mirror neurons are what enable us to feel the emotions of another creature, be they of our species or another. As Bekoff puts it, they are “the neural basis for empathy…[required] for the formulation and maintenance of social bonds.” In other words, that prize human emotion – the one that leads to self-awareness, to social structure, to emotional relationships – is, in fact, not human at all.
Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t point out the often elitist – or at least excessively moral – human paradigm that we, as a species, tend to impose on the rest of the planet’s animals. And it’s important to note that these animals are not human – they are close to us, but they are not, and never will be the same as us. As one of the dog owners interviewed in the opening sequence says, “they’re another tribe…and what I really love about dogs and cats is that they’re not like us.”
So watch the documentary. Though be warned, it might bring you to tears –I know it did me – the kind of hot, messy, gut-wrenching tears that we seem to save for the inevitable goodbyes to our pets.
Tagged adoption, animals, brain, cats, companionship, documentary, dogs, dogs v. cats, empathy, euthanasia, evolution, humane society, humans and animals together, love, mirror neurons, neurology, PBS, pets
Have you read His Dark Materials? In this fantasy trilogy there are several worlds and in one of them, the world that the main character comes from, there is an odd phenomenon. Every person has a life long companion called a dæmon, which is an animal representation of the person’s soul.
These animals reflect the person’s personality. For example those who are prone to guarding and serving tend to have dogs. Whereas those who have the stereotypical traits of a lizard have a lizard for a dæmon. I find this all very interesting because these dæmons are animals with human personalities.
Philip Pullman, the author makes an interesting point with this invention. It seems to me that he points out that it’s not animals that have qualities of humans but humans who still have animal qualities. So far we have spent a lot of our time talking about how society perceive animals as human but never the other way around. This truly is a new way to view the animal in all of us. And it is cool to try to think of what your dæmon would be. Actually, if you read this feel free comment with the animal your dæmon would be.
A Lion roaming through the forest got a thorn in his foot, and, meeting a Shepherd, asked him to remove it. The Shepherd did so, and the Lion, having just surfeited himself on another shepherd, went away without harming him. Some time afterward the Shepherd was condemned on a false accusation to be cast to the lions in the amphitheatre. When they were about to devour him, one of them said:
“This is the man who removed the thorn from my foot.”
Hearing this, the others honorably abstained, and the claimant ate the Shepherd all himself.
–Ambrose Bierce, “The Lion and the Thorn”