CH 7 "Communicating the Meaning of Animalsâ€?
How do we come to equate specific animals with certain places, businesses, sports and an endless number of activities within the consumer sphere. Corbett presents the fun challenge of filling in the blanks for:
Sly as ____
Eyes like an _____
An eager _____
Stubborn as a ________
I was quickly able to fill these in with fox, eagle, beaver, coyote and mule and Iâ€™m sure most people would be able to do the same because of pop culture influences. Corbett points out that itâ€™s impossible to divorce pop culture messages from our preconceived notions of what animals are like, especially if we donâ€™t have sufficient personal experience and knowledge to bring to the table (178). We expect lions at the zoo to act more like â€śkings of the jungleâ€? rather than the lethargic beast dozing in its cage like we usually see. There are also many animal representations we relate to although weâ€™ve never seen the animal in its native wild habitat.
Animals that serve as symbolic messengers for human values and animal characters are rampant in what we see in media. Why? Animals are the most tangible element of the larger environment and environmental issues. It makes sense that we tend to identify most closely with the living, breathing components of the natural world. Animals are concrete, picturable, and evoking of emotion. Itâ€™s easier to relate to the climate changes of the Artic when the lives of polar bears living there are considered. According to professor Stephen Kellert, who has studied perceptions of animals for decades, â€śanimals may represent a metaphorical device for people to express basic perceptions and feelings about the nonhuman worldâ€? (181). Animals can be used as a living symbol of possession of an environment and when we think of an animal we may think of its habitat â€“ thus leading our minds to consider environmental preservation.
How did some animals, like the wolf, come to receive a bad connotation? Wolves have been described as evil, murderers, criminals, beasts etc., and mainly because according to human standards they do something that we do just as well: kill prey. Interestingly this isnâ€™t the same attitude held by Native Americans and Eskimos who â€śdidnâ€™t mind sharing game and who attributed the wolf with many positive qualities, such as intelligence, boldness, and skillâ€? (184). For white settlers it has become encoded in our brains to have this anthropocentric view, which is actually positively correlated to having a negative attitude toward carnivores. Conversely, ecocentrism has a positive attitude toward carnivores.
In advertising, everything we admire about animals is available to exploit and capitalize upon. Examples like the grace of a bird and the agility of a tiger or the aesthetics of a zebra are all used to sell us products. We donâ€™t even need experience with any of these animals to know what a certain product is supposed to provide. â€śAnimals can signify many things: family roles, wildness, unpredictability, power, sexiness. They can signify relationships, attributes or bothâ€? (207). According to advertising researchers, we like to believe that animals, especially mammals, have families similar to human families. We like to see when animal parents are good providers but are also capable of tenderness or playfulness. Studies have also found that women and men respond differently to animal images in ads. Women respond most positively to ads where animals represent nurturing relations and identify less when animals are used to express product attributes. Men like when animals embody desirable product attributes like power, speed and strength. This reminds me of an ad for horsepower wherein there are horses bursting out of a barn all lit afire to tell the audience that the car is incredibly powerful and you can have this too by buying the car and the horsepower fluid.
So it is evident that nothing speaks to us of the natural world as animals do. They represent the â€śantithesis of technological cultureâ€? (212). We cannot entirely remove animals from their pop culture communication or from historical feelings. We use entire species as representations for human values and emotions. We do stereotype and generalize and we have preferences for animals most like us. The only time we really hear about animals in the news is when there is conflict over them or when they trespass beyond what we consider their habitat and into what we consider ours. It is important to remember that we share a common environment with animals and it is subject to the effects of degradation that depends on our actions as well as the feelings we communicate about them.