In last week’s lecture, the topic was focused on how audiences view animals in the media. What really stood out within this hour of class, was how documentaries and films attempt to humanise different animals. To put it simply: dogs, cats, penguins and orcas, for example, are made to project human thoughts and feelings so that we no longer see them as animals, but instead as ourselves.
Whilst watching an excerpt of ‘March of the Penguins’ (2005), during lecture, it was evident that the narrator (Morgan Freeman) in the documentary was giving us a humanlike tale on finding love and creating life to convey a narrowed mind-set of how we view the penguins on the television screen.
Even in ‘Blackfish’, the documentary about the breeding of Orcas at SeaWorld had particular scenes where the theorists and ex trainers from the theme park discuss how they believe the whales have similar feelings to humans. This is evident in the scene where the neurologist illuminates how Orcas have a section in their brain reserved for feelings, which justifies why they swim in big groups in the sea. One trainer recalls the grief of one of the whales when her baby was taken away to become a new attraction at the SeaWorld Orlando theme park saying “she stayed in the corner of the pool literally just shaking and screaming and screeching, and crying. I’d never seen her do anything like that” (Blackfish 2013). The odd thing about the way animals are portrayed and described in these documentaries is how it is perceived as surprising that animals have feelings. When watching ‘Blackfish’ the people interviewed give off a message that feels like they’re saying “wow, orcas have feelings? They’re more like us than we thought!” It never occurs to them that these animals are individual beings, and don’t need to be human to express feelings.
In the set reading ‘Marching on Thin Ice: The Politics of Penguin Films’, Elizabeth Leane and Stephanie Pfennigwerth discuss how both ‘March of the Penguins’ (2005), and cartoon animation film ‘Happy Feet’ (2006), are less about the animals projected on the screen, stating that the underlying story is really one about human society. Leane and Pfennigwerth say:
“Both are ostensibly about animals yet are, in different ways, enmeshed in human politics; and both have a political “elephant in the room”: climate change” (Leane & Pfennigwerth 2013, p.31).
Later on in the reading Leane and Pfennigwerth illuminate the concept of how humans find it hard to believe that animals have feelings unless they are first humanised. Their example is conveyed through their opinion on the movie ‘Happy Feet’ (2006). They state:
“humans in the film (and, by extension, it’s audience) care about the penguin’s plight only when they behave like humans – not in the basic sense that they suffer like humans when their food source is depleted, but that they tap dance like humans” (Leane & Pfennigwerth 2013, p.39).
If you read the above quote, and think back to how the interviewers were shocked at the mother’s grief in ‘Blackfish’ (2013), you can definitely see that this is true. If an animal in any way is perceived as or conveys feelings similar to a human, it instantly becomes shocking and relatable for an audience.
When watching Disney Classics like ‘The Lion King’ (1994), do we not cry when Mufasa is murdered by Scar, or when Simba approaches his dying father? Ironically enough, isn’t the ‘Can you feel the Love Tonight’ scene between Nala and Simba a journey of finding love like the narrative of ‘March of the Penguins’ (2005)? Again, Leane and Pfenningwerth highlight this idea when revealing Margaret Kings opinion saying, “By subjectfying animals, the Disney format creates audience identification with animal “stars” and arouses empathy with and affinity of their situations. Audiences are encouraged to relate to nature in human terms” (2013, p32).
Overall, whether it’s a cartoon or a documentary, it can be easily proven that animals are indeed humanised in the media for audiences to consume.
Blackfish 2013, Manny O Productions, USA, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Happy Feet 2006, Warner Bros, Australia/USA, directed by George Miller, Warren Coleman and Judy Morris
Leave, E & Pfennigwerth, S 2013, Marching on Thin Ice: The Politics of Penguin Films, Considering Animals, Ashgate, Surrey, England, pp.29-40
The Lion King 1994, Walt Disney Pictures, USA, directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff
March of the Penguins 2005, National Geographic Films, France, directed by Luc Jacquet