Why Do We Anthropomorphise?

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Anthropomorphism is ‘considered as the attribution of human characteristics and the qualities to non-human beings, objects or natural phenomena’. Giving human characteristics to animals and inanimate objects is a natural human trait. Today we find that anthropomorphism is used increasingly in films, cartoons and books aimed towards children. We grew up with Humphrey B Bear, and A Bug’s Life. Children now have Dora The Explorer and Go Diego Go.

Like anything, this humanisation of animals can be quite dangerous for people and their environment. In some cases, audiences have become so sensitised to this new, false image of animals that they question why animals attack. People are so used to the humanised versions of animals we see in film that they start to forget that animals are in fact animals. This idea is shown through the attacks at SeaWorld from the captive orcas. As mentioned in Brereton’s Environmental Ethics and Film (2015) ‘wildlife films can (intentionally in some cases, unintentionally in others) provide viewers with heavily mediated but potentially transformative modes of access to the emotional lives of our non-human kin’ (Wlling in Weik von Mossner, 2014). After visits to SeaWorld, a lot of young children dream of being an animal trainer when they grow up. They see the trainers at the time being allowed to kiss and swim with dolphins, and that inspires them. This dream doesn’t become a reality for a large majority, once the find out what is actually going on behind the scenes. BlackFish (2013) went against what Brereton (2015) describes as the norm and introduced audiences to the reality of training sea animals. While in the moment, audiences don’t always stop and think that the animals on show are usually beaten and harmed when they don’t cooperate. The documentary detailed experiences about how animals were starved if they couldn’t perform tricks and the orcas were racked if they underperformed.

Continuing with education about animals, films such as Finding Nemo ‘contain a very explicit moral fable against removing reef fish from their habitat’ (Brereton, 2015). “Fish are friends, not food” wasn’t just thrown in there for comedic relief. The film criticises the idea of keeping wild animals as pets to portray to the viewer that captivity is harmful. There are actually many positives when it comes to anthropomorphism. The experience, through films and television shows, isn’t always a negative one.

While in the anthropomorphic imaginative state, we learn more about other animals while experiencing feeling very similar to theirs. This makes us want to help the animals in any way we can to minimise their levels of suffering. These animals, created for media purposes, possess emotions of happiness, sadness, fear, etc. The animals in Disney’s Cinderella can talk and interact with human characters and can clearly show emotion. This can teach younger audiences that animals do experience the emotions most would only identify as human. While still trying to push the point across that some animals in particular are dangerous, they are still capable of feeling hurt, distress and happiness.

The use of anthropomorphism proves to be successful for entertainment and educational purposes. The message may not be noticed by younger audiences during one viewing, but as time goes on and education about animals increases, the message almost always reaches the target audience.

References:

Brereton, Pat. Environmental Ethics And Film. 1st ed. Routledge, 2015.

“Anthropomorphism Of Animals: Types, Pros And Cons – RHEG”. Raymondinegypt.tripod.com. N.p., 2016. Web.

Blackfish. Gabriela Cowperthwaite, 2013. Film.

“‘Blackfish’: The Documentary That Exposes Seaworld”. SeaWorld of Hurt. Web. 

 

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