Animal Studies Bibliography

Herzog, Jr., Harold A., and Shelley L. Galvin. 1992. Animals, archetypes, and popular culture: Tales from the tabloid press. Anthrozoos 5(2): 77-92.

Purpose : To characterize how animals and human-animal relations were portrayed in American popular culture (79) [no hypothesis given]

Content categories : theme represented, species involved, title, tabloid, issue

Findings : Every issue of the tabloids contained animal items, with an average of 9.6 items per issue. The four tabloids differed as to how they usually portrayed animals, with some having a more positive perspective than others. The animal items can be placed in 9 thematic categories. First, the animal as loved one, the most frequent theme, including weird or exotic pets and their owners' affection for them, extreme devotion by either the animal or the owner (leaving inheritance to your pet, long-lost pets finding owners, etc.), and cute animal pictures, usually of baby animals with Lorenzian baby releasers that trigger parental feelings in humans. Cases of extreme devotion to animals are taboo in our culture, and tabloid stories may provide a safe way to address these feelings. The cute animal pictures were often anthropomorphic, including showing animals being affectionate within and across species and animals doing human activities. Such anthropomorphism reinforces our sense of connection to animals while also showing how we are different. Animals appearing in the affection category were predominantly dogs (60%) and cats (20%) but a wide array of other animals (42 different kinds) appeared as well. Second, the animal as savior (Lassie, dogs awakening owners in comas, dolphins saving drowning people, pigeons warning of bomb attacks, etc.) is a prominent cultural theme, and dogs were the animal in half of these stories. Cats were rarely described as saviors, and other species (sharks, insects) were never saviors, reflecting the roles we assign them as threats. Third, animals as a threat to humans or other animals included a large variety of animals, both traditional threats (bears, lions, sharks) and unexpected ones (toads, cattle). Surprisingly, the dog was the most common threat, revealing our ambivalence toward them. These stories often included animals eating people, animals attacking children and parents fighting back, animals fighting back against abuse humans, and people using animals to attack people. Fourth, animals appeared as victims in two types of stories: people working to save animals (both large-scale conservation and animal rights efforts and saving individual animals) and people abusing animals (often abusing animals to get back at their owners). Fifth, animals were portrayed as tools or objects for human use. Our primary human-animal relationship is eating animals, and many stories made this practice gross by discussing unusual animals (pets, rats, bugs, etc.) or live or raw animals being eaten, or animals eaten by accident. Other uses included ritual uses, entertainment (performing animals and competitions, etc.). Sixth, animals were shown as sex objects and sexual aggressors. Zoophilia (the sexualizing of contact between the species) is the most taboo subject in human-animal relations, though sex studies show that it is not as rare as we might think. Most of the bestiality stories involved women. Although farm animals and dogs are the most frequent participants in zoophilia, tabloid stories did not reflect this, with most stories discussing Bigfoot, apes, and dolphins. This focus may be because most of the stories discussed the animal as sexual aggressor, whereas in real zoophilia, the animal is generally used for human gratification. Seventh, imaginary or bizarre animals were often portrayed in tabloids, falling into 4 overlapping categories: anomalies (biological deformities like extra limbs, human-caused deformities like radiation mutations, and animals which looked like another species); animals with supernatural or religious powers (psychic animals, animals with special powers like flying, animals reincarnated as people or coming back from the dead, animals that are gods); imaginary and mythological creatures (Bigfoot, sea monsters, devil cats); and the human animal (literal human-animal mixes like a satyr, people turned into animals, people metaphorically transformed into animals (zoomorphism)--woman thinks she's a dog, etc.--and feral humans raised by animals). Eighth, animals were portrayed with human characteristics. These cases can be identified using Lockwood's (1989) 3 types of anthropomorphism: superficial anthropomorphism (explaining animal behavior in human terms instead of its actual biological purpose), explanatory anthropomorphism (circular explanations of animal behavior in terms of human motivation), and personification (tendency to superimpose our desires and wishes on animals--animals wearing human clothes and doing human activities). Ninth, animals are shown as objects of wonder, including stories about animal behavior and characteristics (color-changing, etc.), unusual species, and outstanding individual animals (largest and smallest, special skills or escapes. There were some articles which did not fit any of the themes. The themes suggest above are indicative of our feelings about human-animal relations and are the same themes that can be found in our thinking about animals throughout history (e.g. in cave painting, etc.) cross-culturally.

Sample/population sampled : Random sample of all issues of 4 national tabloids (National Enquirer, National Examiner, Weekly World News, Sun) issued between 1985 and 1990. Randomly selected 82 of these 100 issues and analyzed all animal-related pictures, articles, cartoons, and columns in each issue.




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