Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Prince for Animals

Social equality comes up over and over again in history textbooks and lectures. Humans are judged based on their skin color, race, and even their socioeconomic statuses. For better or worse, not all humans are viewed equally. The same is true for animals. There are some animals that appear to be more “popular” with humans than others, just as animals are often labeled as either “good” or “bad.” Humans label animals based on who poses the biggest threat to power. Following a Machiavellian example, humans are most afraid of those most similar to themselves, and thus those who have the greatest potential threat. In essence, most humans only interact with nature in a Machiavellian way—always afraid.
I. The Media Corrupts the Minds
            The media has selected a few animals and always portrayed them in a negative connotation, thus influencing human’s views on animals. Movies that focus on animals typically have the “good guys” and the “bad guys”. However, the bad guys are usually the same each time. Most water horror movies like Jaws and Open Water focus on the shark. There are more options for the land villains, but they typically include bears, lions, and wolves. All of these animals are classified as mega fauna: large, much larger than humans. We naturally feel threatened by these animals and our impulse is to put them in another category. We create an us versus them mentality where we as humans can band together to take over the tough animals. Machiavelli agrees with this point, stating in The Prince that a prince must assert dominance over everyone, otherwise he will be attacked. He believes that no one is truly loyal to the prince, which is why he needs to constantly assert dominance over both his subjects and enemies in order to scare them into being obedient. Similarly, the media causes people to fear certain animals. Because they are strong and capable of taking over, we assert our dominance over them to show that we humans truly are the princes of nature.
II. Sympathy Towards Those We Recognize
            Humans tend to like qualities similar to the ones that we have. For example, dogs are man’s best friend and are known for being playful and loving, two qualities that are valued in humans. Disney uses animals in their films, while still keeping the human characteristics present to keep audience sympathy. In Bambi, the “evil” animals are not the traditional mega fauna mentioned earlier. Ironically, humans are the villains in Bambi. Almost every bad occurrence in the film stems from some kind of human involvement. We typically categorize humans into good and bad in regards to how we treat fellow humans, not in the treatment of animals. The main character in Bambi is a deer. Although deer can be common to see on the side of the road, seeing them in nature is quite uncommon. However, they are still large animals with huge antlers, which fits the human definition of “scary.” However, the innocence of watching a fawn grow up and into adulthood makes the audience sympathize with this creature, know matter what our upbringing.
            The Lion King takes a similar approach, with lions being the main characters. As viewers, we develop an attachment for the lions as they are personified in a way that humans can relate to. Although they kill for food, we do not view it as bad thing because Mufassa explains to the audience about the “circle of life.” By this simple explanation, the killing seems acceptable. Additionally, the audience never actually sees a lion in the act of killing, but only hears Simba or Mufassa speak of it. Also, humans are natural omnivores; we kill for our food. This forms an unexplainable bond that makes us understand the lions. Similar to Bambi, we are also watching a young lion grow up and learn the ways of being at the top of the food chain. Although Disney and the media seem to tame these animals, they would frighten most people in seen in the wild. This is partially because of their size, and also partially because they do share some of our beloved human qualities. Because they are similar to us, we fear them. We become paranoid that they can hurt us, and so in a Machiavellian way, we use Disney to portray them as innocent creatures that cannot do us harm.
III. The Threat to Power
            Machiavelli argues in The Prince that any good leader must always kill those who are a threat to his throne, because they are not loyal and can try to overthrow the government at any time. Humans have this fear, although it may be subconscious. Lions for example, are at the top of the food chain in the African savannah. As humans, we have no natural predators, which technically makes us the top of the chain. Humans have risen to the top, but if the lions increase their population enough, they could be strong enough to kill us off. This paranoia causes us to fear them and portray them mostly in negative connotations (Lion King as the exception). By doing this, we are distancing ourselves from the creatures we fear. We are also killing off many of those who are a threat. Although often not on purpose, as we our ruining the environment, we are also destroying the habitats of these mega fauna, reducing their population. This could be a subconscious method of “killing all who resent [our] rule” (The Prince).  Scar is the prime example for this. When he finally does come to rule Pride Rock, he is constantly fearing an uprising and people realizing that he is an awful king. He never allows anyone to even mention Mufassa’s name. Both Zazoo and the hyenas mutter the taboo name, and Scar goes crazy. This is because he fears losing his throne. He did not complete the Machiavelli task of killing everyone when conquering a new land, and thus many of his subjects resent his rule. This reflects the humans views on animals—constantly scared of a takeover.
IV. Popularity of Animals
            There are animals we are similar to, animals we fear (although these might be the same), animals we laugh at, and animals we simply don’t even know exist. Some animals somehow gain more “popularity” than other animals. For example, most people have heard of squirrels and sheep, but most have probably not heard of the water ouzel. John Muir writes in The Mountains of California about the beauty and gracefulness of the water ouzel, the squirrel, and the mountain sheep. He also chooses to identify himself with the latter, praising every detail of the marvelous creature. The water ouzel is written as being childlike and carefree, “a singularly joyous and lovable little fellow,” allowing for human sympathy. But why aren’t animals like this more widely known? It may be because its appearance is so unlike a human’s. Although we might possess similar childlike, carefree traits, our physical appearance is nothing like the tiny bird. Because we rely so much on our sight, we simply can’t relate to a bird that is so different from us. We can picture ourselves much more like a dog, who has legs like we do, or a lion, who rules like we do. In addition, humans do not feel threatened by the water ouzel. It is a small bird that plays and lives a rather “charmed life.” For this reason, it does not have the tough body of one who needs to fight to survive. Humans have nothing to fear from this tiny little water ouzel, so many do not even know it exists.
            However, another way for an animal to gain popularity is to be completely opposite from humans. Octopi, for example, are not even remotely similar to us. They do not even have legs, they have tentacles; and they have eight of them. They live underwater and are definitely not mammals. Animals like these have also gained popularity in the human world. These did not gain fame through a threat to power however. There is no Machiavellian threat; it is simply that their differences are so great that humans have taken notice. It appears that in order to be widely known in the human world, an animal must either be similar in features and behavior to a human, or starkly opposite, but no where in between.
V. Conclusion
            Although Machiavelli wrote The Prince to discuss how princes should rule over their kingdoms, his novel applies to the natural world as well. The prince does not always have to be a human, but it has been for so long that humans are terrified of it being anything else. To stifle this fear, humans use different techniques to try to put animals “in their place.” Through the use of media to try to fictionally tame animals, unintentionally killing animals’ habitats, and remembering mostly those who pose a threat to power, humans are constantly in fear of losing our place on top. Humans only interact with nature in a Machiavellian way, paranoid and power-hungry. 

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

New Word Needed for Stability

Sublime and pastoral nature are the extremes at each end. Sublime is the thunderstorm from the angry gods and pastoral is happy cows frolicking in the open pasture. Not everything in the world fits into these two categories. There are many things that are in between, which suggests that new terminology needs to be made. That is not to say that sublime and pastoral are necessarily wrong, simply that a new addition is needed. This new term could encompass many more things than either sublime or pastoral, because it would probably make up the majority of the world. In anatomy, we learned that the body maintains stability through homeostasis. Receptors detects a change in the environment and certain things happen in the body in order for it to remain in balance. I think this concept could relate to nature as well. Sublime nature will happen sometimes. But animals and humans will react to it and make changes until they get back to their stable life. The same goes for pastoral occurrences. For this reason, I think this new word should describe the balance that life should be at before a disturbance occurs.

Shamu Attacks!

Animals and the Media

We have all grown up watching the Lion King and the Little Mermaid and Free Willy. We have visited Seaworld and seen Shamu jump and flip around. We have grown up with such a pastoral view of nature from these films. Yet sublime usually comes up, and it usually creeps in with the same main characters. Bears and sharks, for example, are almost always portrayed as the "evil" ones. The media has selected a select few animals and always portrayed them in a negative connotation, thus influencing human's (especially American's) views on animals.

Movies that focus on animals have the good guys and the bad guys, like all movies should. However, these movies are like a sequel in that the bad guys are usually the same each time. Most water horror movies such as Jaws and Open Water focus on the shark. Land animals have more variety, including animals like bears, lions, and wolves. These animals all have the size factor in common: they are all large, most larger than humans. We naturally feel threatened by these animals, and are impulse is to put them in another category. We create an us versus them mentality where we as humans can band together to take over the tough animals. The media enhances our already fearful mentality of these creatures by always portraying them in movies with ominous music. These are usually the animals that inflict harm upon humans, which is what makes us so scared of them in the first place.

Disney sets up an interesting contrast between the "evil" animals of traditional movies and the "evil" animals of Disney movies. In the Lion King, for example, lions are the main characters. As viewers, we develop an attachment for the lions and they are personified in a way that humans can actually relate too. Although they kill for food, we don't view it as a bad thing because Mufassa explains to us about the "circle of life." By this simple explanation, the killing seems acceptable. There is also no scene in which the lions are seen as acting aggressively towards humans.

Another instance in which nature is portrayed differently in childhood media than normal movies is Shamu at Seaworld. Shamu is a killer whale who does flips and tricks for an audience to watch. Although killer whales are rather vicious and kill even the "evil" sharks, they are portrayed as cartoon-like creatures who are very tame. There is usually a trainer in the pool with Shamu, which gives a tense that killer whales and humans can have peaceful interactions. This however, is not always the case. (See video above.)

I think the reasons that killer whales are portrayed as more friendly than sharks is because of the amount of human interaction among the two. Killer whales for the most part are out in the open sea, and are usually only spotted by humans on whale watching tours or other rare occasions. Sharks, on the other hand, swim closer to shore and have occasional attacks with surfers, often leaving the human either dead or with missing limbs. For this reason, the fear humans have for sharks is greater, which is then made even greater by the view of sharks in the media. Overall, movies and the media have a huge effect on how we view specific animals in nature.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Seasons in Bambi

During any animated movie, or any movie for that matter, visual aids play a huge role in the viewer’s experience. The colors really show a parallel to what is happening in a particular scene. In particular, seasons play a huge role in Bambi, showing how different parts of the life cycle typically occur during different time periods.
            Bambi takes place over many years, thus passing through many seasons. Bambi is first born in the spring, which is typically viewed as the season for birth and re-growth. He is growing up in a safe environment with few natural predators or other roadblocks to hinder his growth. Bambi meets his friends in the winter, including Thumper the rabbit and Flower the skunk. Still in his first year, the first reference to the sublime occurs as winter draws near. A thunderstorm begins as Bambi is frolicking with Thumper. Thumper, although very young, knew that is was time to go back to his mom. This fear of the sublime has been engraved upon these animals so that they are aware of the fear even close to birth when they have not been taught to be scared of it yet. The coming of spring usually represents danger, especially out in the wild. However, Bambi’s first winter is rather uneventful. He realizes what snow is for the first time. In this instance, the snow is only on the ground; it is not flurrying down, as it will later in the movie. In this case, the snow is peaceful and playful, thus representing pastoral nature, despite the common belief that snow and winter are always sublime. Despite occasional glimpses of sublime, Bambi’s early childhood is filled with pastoral nature, even with the passing of all four seasons.
            As Bambi matures, tragedy strikes. Man kills Bambi’s mother. While Bambi is still calling for his mother, snow begins to fall heavily, signifying winter. The fact that the tragedy of a child losing a mother occurs in the winter is very fitting. Winter is the time for catastrophe, if there ever is a time. The entry of man, although the viewer never actually sees him, represents a shift to the sublime. Generally, sublime refers to a higher power intervention, often God. However, in this case, the sublime is man having the power over the animals. It is also interesting that man only is mentioned during the winter. This seems like Bambi and the other animals don’t worry about things during the seasons that appear to be peaceful.
            The movie progresses, and as Bambi continues to grow, the seasons keep changing.  Spring arrives, and although they are each disgusted by the thought at first, Flower, Thumper, and Bambi all find love. The newly “twitterpated” animals are finally happy in the springtime when unexpected sublime hits. A fire breaks out, caused by man. Bambi and the others race out of harms way, escaping being harmed by the forest fire. Generally, such a disaster like this would not be expected in springtime, the time of birth. Rather it would be expected in the winter. However, this fire was not caused by nature, but rather by man. This shows that the typical seasonal stereotypes of disasters are only applicable when it comes to natural events that are not influenced by man. When humans become involved, they throw off the entire circle of life to benefit themselves, thus altering the typical views of pastoral and sublime, and mixing elements of each.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Pastoral vs. Sublime Nature

So far in Tom Sawyer, the dominant view of nature has definitely been pastoral nature. It completely dominates life. However, the definitions of sublime and pastoral differ for different people in the novel. For example, Tom, who loves nature and wants to be a part of it as much as he can, sees almost all his interactions with nature as pastoral. For him, being in nature is peaceful and calming and an all around good feeling. He can "enter a dense wood, and pick his pathless way to the centre of it" quite easily. For Tom, that is natural; that is easy. It is being in the civil world that is difficult for him. So for Tom, nature in all its forms so far has been pastoral.

However, this view on nature is different for other people in the town. Aunt Polly, the teachers, and most of the adults are fearful of nature. They don't understand why Tom feels so comfortable out there, and are scared of things that are "natural." For them, a lot of the nature imagery shown so far is actually subtly sublime. Although not as obvious as a thunder storm suddenly coming down from the wrath of the gods, even a dense wood would be to them, unexplainable and a little scary. "Cardiff Hill lifted its soft green sides through a shimmering veil of heat, tinted with the purple of distance; a few birds floated on lazy wing high in the air; no other living thing was visible but some cows, and they were asleep" (57). This is the kind of nature that the adults like, with the cows who are already domesticated. But the nature that Tom likes, of the wood and wild and unexplored, they view almost as sublime.

This is a very interesting contrast of the different characters views on nature. So although pastoral has been much more prevalent throughout the novel, there have been some mentions of sublime as seen through other character's eyes. It will be interesting to see how much more of each type of nature there will be as the story progresses.