It’s certainly not a new trend. Humans have been anthropomorphizing the world around them as long as there have been humans. Early man used anthropomorphism in an attempt to explain things beyond his ability to understand and comprehend them. The term anthropomorphism was first used by the Greek philosopher Xenophanes when describing the similarity between religious believers and their gods.
I think we tend to assign human characteristics to animals we feel strong bonds with, particularly our pets. This would explain a multi-billion dollar industry devoted exclusively to dog clothing. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that if your dog could talk, he would most likely tell you that while he appreciates the irony, he doesn’t really appreciate being dressed up like a hot dog. He’s only been humoring you. And while this practice is relatively harmless save for the dignity of your canine companion, other forms are not.
Most of us remember the tragic death of Sea World trainer Dawn Brancheau by Tilikum, the oldest and largest killer whale at the park. People were understandably horrified, but no one should have been particularly surprised.
As it turns out, the “normally docile” orca had killed twice before. Most of us are accustomed to seeing killer whales jumping out of giant swimming pools and allowing trainers to ride them like giant water horses, but they’re not called killer whales for nothing.
I’m fairly certain that whale in the second picture isn’t jumping up to give that penguin a kiss. The anthropomorphisation of killer whales has a logical explanation. Sea World parks are profit driven. Kids want to see Shamu jumping out of the water and kicking giant footballs with their tails, not what they typically do in the wild like, say, dragging seals off of rocks and eating them.
Other examples of anthropomorphisation are more difficult for me. While I suppose I can understand the popularity of the teddy bear based upon President Theodore Roosevelt’s encounter with a black bear on a hunting trip, I don’t think anyone in the early 20th century would have mistakenly assumed a bear in the woods to be cuddly and/or friendly. No, that ill-fated assumption only came to pass in the late 20th century courtesy of Hanna-Barbara Studio’s Yogi Bear. Since then, people have been happily feeding bears in state parks resulting in the death both campers and bears. Seriously, people. Unless a bear approaches you wearing a green tie and a fedora, it’s best to keep a safe distance.
I’m sure you can think of dozens of other examples. The Coca-Cola polar bears are fun loving and family friendly. Actual polar bears are one of the few mammals who will kill for the sake of killing. Fantasia’s dancing hippos? Hilarious. Real hippos kill more people in Africa than crocodiles. Sock monkeys? Adorable. Real monkeys? Disgusting, stinky, vile animals.
I will make one exception because I’m rather fond of rabbits due in large part to Watership Down by Richard Adams. I love that book, and I see rabbits all the time. They’ve never once attempted to attack me. Rabbits are wholly fantastic and wonderful. But don’t watch the movie based on the book. It’s horrible.
I am certain that real rabbits are mostly good and true and would be befriend you if they weren’t completely terrified of human beings.
Namely, the cute-tification of owls. Owls are certainly not a new phenomenon to literature or home decor. Who can forget Owl of Winnie the Pooh fame? But he wasn’t portrayed as cute, only wise and a bit on snooty side. Home decor? Need I remind any of you of the tragedy which befell almost every 1970’s household: the macrame owl?
Again, these could not be described as cute by any stretch of the imagination. But today? Owls are everywhere. In home decor and in fashion, almost always portrayed as cute.
They’re not cute, people! They’re predatory killing machines. I’m convinced that the only reason the large owl which frequents the telephone line behind my house hasn’t attempted to kill me is because I’m simply too heavy to carry off. But they’re getting more confidently aggressive every day as we are lulled into a false sense of security.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.