Media representation has often been a debatable topic as to how a particular group of people, gender or ideas are being perceived to audiences. Amusingly, there are also stereotypes among animals. When speaking of animal that loves to sleep, either koala or sloth usually be the first that comes to your mind. While the fact koala loves to sleep is true enough; media often perpetuates wrong ideas of animals by objectifying them to hold similar human characteristics.
The film “Zootopia” can be a thought-provoking example for this discourse. In the movie, the main characters were of a fox named Nick Wilde and a rabbit named Judy Hopps. Nick was a con artist, which how foxes are often portrayed as cunning animals, whereas Judy aspired to be a police officer yet was belittled, as rabbits are portrayed as soft and cute domestic animals. Partly due to the natural ecosystem animal food chain, the predators are typically aggressive and violent whereas the preys are weak and timid, as shown in the movie. As the film progressed, the story tackled on issues such as racism and discrimination, even depicting an evolution in the animal kingdom where preys and predators were working together harmoniously. Undoubtedly, the film included human traits which the animals could speak and walk on both legs. However, the storyline did breakthrough the stereotypical image of animals and also humans. It had provided a good insight towards human behaviours and inculcated the importance of diversity and equality.
This in corresponds to the phenomenon –anthropomorphism. As suggested by Nauert PhD (2015), anthropomorphism is “giving human characteristics to animals or inanimate objects”. Patricia Ganea, a psychologist at Toronto University expressed that “attributing human-like intentions and beliefs is a “very natural way to explain certain animal behaviors” and can be useful in generating empathy for mistreated animals, however there is a downside.” (Milman 2016) This is because it may “lead to an inaccurate understanding of biological processes in the natural world” and “inappropriate behaviours towards wild animals”. (Milman 2016) The article by Milman (2016) also connoted an interesting view which was “while it is categorically wrong to say animals do not have any thoughts or emotions, but it is also wrong to say that they are completely the same as humans”.
Some parties probe whether talking about animals suffering or emotions is a form of anthropomorphism. Animal activists like PETA often depict the brutality of animals suffering from being abused. The indicated animals are namely cows, goats, pigs, chickens, which what we usually called them as “livestock” or exotic animals like monkeys, chimpanzees, dolphins or elephants, which are caged to demonstrate shows for human audiences. As an advocate for animal’s right, the organization exposes truth behind animal exploitation and torture that is happening in reality. It is known that the graphic footages posted by PETA can be extreme and inappropriate for some audiences. The organization addresses the urgency of social change which nonhumans should also be treated with equality and respect. Hence, how do we distinguish the fine line between anthropomorphism and an animal welfare?
Humans tend to have an anthropocentric view when it comes to any nonhuman beings. The belief that humans are more dominant than animals is certainly not fair, as “animals can have cognitive faculties that are superior to human beings”. (University of Adelaide 2013) Despite being a puzzle all over for media on how to ethically or accurately portray animals, it is crucial for ourselves to be equipped with the basic knowledge of ecology.
Milman, O 2016, “Anthropomorphism: how much humans and animals share is still contested”, The Guardian, accessed online 4/4/2017, <https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/jan/15/anthropomorphism-danger-humans-animals-science>
Nauert PhD, R 2015, “Why Do We Anthropomorphize?”, Psych Central, accessed online 4/4/2017, <https://psychcentral.com/news/2010/03/01/why-do-we-anthropomorphize/11766.html>
University of Adelaide 2013, “Humans not smarter than animals, just different, experts say”, Phys Org, accessed online 4/4/2017, <https://phys.org/news/2013-12-humans-smarter-animals-experts.html>