Representations of Animals in Popular Culture
Nonhuman animals have been a fixture in film, TV series, comics and graphic novels, music videos, reality TV shows, documentary films and series. These representations tend to establish and perpetuate (or appropriate) shared beliefs about, and stereotypes of, specific species. Anthropomorphic animals roam Disney movies (and other popular culture artifacts), while zoomorphism renders human characters and actors animal-like (see also below). Crucially, animal representations in popular culture do (purportedly) not only target human audiences. For example, the official DOGTV website hails its programming as “the only technology created for dogs with sights and sounds scientifically designed to enrich their environment.” Dogs can watch other dogs sleeping or running around. And the broadcaster’s YouTube channel is filled with content that highlights that “dogs love to watch DOGTV.”
From Animality to Beastiality: The Human as Nonhuman Animal
Animality and bestiality have been used as symbolic tools to exclude selected subjects from the select group of “human” on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, etc. Asymmetric power structures and purposeful discrimination have been connected to specific discourses and representations, often relying on zoological metaphors and constructions, as well as the creation of human-animal hybrid monsters transgressing established social mores. At the same time, though, animal symbolism often endows humans (and human characters) with superhuman strength, agility, etc., which is why animal representations (next to Indigenous peoples) are frequently used as sports team names and sports mascots.
Commodification of Nonhuman Animals: Zooculture, Pet Industry, Agribusiness
Animals are integrated into a world ecology that, according to Jason Moore, relies on the “cheapening of nature,” which allows humans to shamelessly exploit nonhuman animals. While discussions of, for example, zoo animals and animals in theme parks are long-established by now, the exploitation of animals has taken different dimensions in recent years that warrant closer examination, such as the exploitation of pets and their keepers’ feelings by the pet industry. Likewise, documentaries such as The Conservation Game have shown how not only the trade in “exotic” animals is booming in the US but how media figures that purportedly publicly represent animal welfare, in fact, profit off animal exploitation.
Animal Science: Research, Experimentation, and Animal-Assisted Therapy
Nonhuman animals have been objects of scientific interest for a variety of reasons and aims, often raising ethical concerns and controversies. Besides their zoological study, animals have been used as research commodities and test subjects in processes that range from drug and beauty product testing to the creation of human-animal hybrids (e.g. xenotransplantation). Animals have also been increasingly used in therapeutic contexts, giving rise to debates on the effectiveness of the practice.
Animals in Popular Discourse
We might be witnessing the first stages of the sixth mass extinction. And while plants, fungi, and other lifeforms also vanish at an alarming rate, popular discourse focuses on the disappearance of animals from Earth. This is just one example of how animals figure in a variety of popular discourses and practices including, but not limited to, wildlife protection vs. agricultural interests, wildlife vs. recreation (e.g. black bears killing hikers and mountain lions snatching mountain bikers off their bikes), domestic cats as invasive species, the Asian “murder hornet” invasion, de-extinction science, animals and climate change, re-wilding, and public science (e.g. photographing sharks to identify them).