Hollywood’s Influence on the Outdoors

January 29, 2009 by  

By Doug Leier

Humans are humans, and animals are … not human.

And yet, in so many movies, television programs and books, animals are given characteristics such as human speech, movement and emotion, that it’s hard for some people to separate the entertainment world from the real world.

For many centuries, North Dakota’s native peoples relied on animals for at least some of their food, clothing and shelter. The same was true for European settlers who came first to North America’s East Coast, and eventually to the Great Plains.

But somewhere along the line, when beavers, buffalo and deer were no longer a necessity for survival, something changed. People still used domesticated animals to provide the food and clothing that wild animals once did, but as each decade passed, a few more people accepted a philosophy that human use of animals, including hunting, should not be as routine as it once was.

It’s been widely discussed that anthropomorphism, or attributing human characteristics to objects such as animals, has played a role in this shifting of human attitudes on animal use. The movie “Bambi,” originating in 1942, is a prime example. The movie took the elements of death and orphanage long associated with humans, and applied them to a young deer. In addition, the cause of this trauma in the young deer’s life was attributed to hunters.

“Bambi” certainly wasn’t the first time someone gave human traits to an animal in an effort to entertain – or influence. However, many animal-human characters introduced since then became part of 20th century culture.

From Mr. Ed the talking horse to Big Bird, and Lassie to Bugs Bunny, history and media entertainment are ripe with examples of animals transformed into humans. Government agencies are also guilty of giving human traits to animals. Remember Smokey the Bear?

I have two youngsters at home and try to limit their television and movie viewing habits. If you’ve tried to cut out the shows that give human elements to animals, it’s easier to just turn off the television and go hunting.

For some reason, which I’m sure a psychologist can explain, kids (and many adults, too) are drawn to real animals and animal characters. Plain and simple, when Winnie the Pooh, the little lovable bear comes on screen, what kid isn’t drawn in?

And we’ve taken it one step further. We give human names to our domesticated pets, and even wild animals that frequent the back 40, such as “Brutus the buck.”

With anthropomorphism as such a part of our culture, it’s not surprising that people have developed the philosophy that humans should treat animals better than our ancestors did, thus the term “humane” treatment, a concept with which most of us are comfortable … to a point.

A few people, currently a small minority, feel this should mean no human use of animals at all, not raised or hunted for food, not for by-products like leather, and not even as pets.

Most of us in the wildlife management field, and a solid majority of the American public, have a different philosophy, one that involves respect for animals, but stops short of assigning rights similar to those we have for humans.

Through cartoons, movies and illustrations we can make animals walk, talk, act or look like humans. But in the real world, animals are not people. We all need to remind ourselves of that perspective from time to time.


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