The blurred barriers between you and your pet

Recently I was watching a television program about a group of researchers from the University of Cambridge who undertook a 2 year study on the behavioural traits of meerkats. The program went into detail about the way in which meerkats teach their pups how to hunt (ABC Science 2006). The adult meerkats were shown actively teaching their young to take the stinger off a scorpion, making it safe to eat (National Geographic 2006). The program described these animals and their teaching habits as being ‘just like humans’.

According to Barras (2008), “animals behavioural studies are blurring the boundaries between humans and animals.” Our tendency to anthropomorphize is increasingly common as the barrier between humans and animals weakens.

Anthropomorphism is defined as “the attributing of human characteristics and purposes to intimate objects, animals, plants, or other natural phenomena.” (The American Heritage 2005). The act of anthropomorphism is something I have been exposed to from a young age due to movies making animals ‘come alive’.

Take for example ‘Bambi’ (1943), Last time I checked, deers do not talk. However the adventures of Bambi (who amazingly knows how to speak the English language), include ice skating, singing and making friends with other talking animals such as birds, rabbits and owls (Disney-Pixar 2017). As a young child, this movie made me believe that animals really could talk, hence why I so easily attributed human characteristics to all of my childhood pets.

Through-out my childhood, the anthropomorphism kept coming from TV shows such as Corneil and Bernie to Selby, a series of books featuring the only talking dog in Australia (Duncan Ball N.D). It seemed like second nature to me to attribute such human-like characteristics to animals. After all, I spent 6 years of my life honestly believing that dogs could actually talk.

Anthropomorphism is constantly appearing online. From videos of dancing birds to talking cats, footage of animals behaving like humans has gone viral. According to Holly Dunsworth, an anthropologist at the University of Rhode Island, “it’s like the internet was built for anthropomorphizing animals.” (Milman 2016). And she’s not wrong. There’s nothing more than satisfying than seeing a video in your Facebook newsfeed of a furry critter talking to their humans.

So why is it that we are so set on giving animals human traits?

According to Nauert (2015), we are quite selective in what we anthropomorphize. This selectively comes from similarity with the things we apply human traits to. “An entity is more likely to be anthropomorphized if it appears to have many traits similar to those of humans” (Nauert 2015). We as humans are able to relate to animals for a number of reasons. A study by Liverpool John Moores University revealed that animals share many of the same emotions as humans, as well as behavioural traits such as grooming, hygiene habits and social relationships (phys.org 2005). However according to Serpell (2002), “the attribution of human mental states to non-human animals” is just another distinction of anthropomorphism.

Whilst animals do share some of the same characteristics as you and I, they are far from being human, so is it wrong to apply such traits to them?  Patricia Ganea,  psychologist at Toronto University, believes anthropomorphism leads to an unrealistic understanding of biological processes (Milman 2016). She adds, “It can also lead to inappropriate behaviors towards wild animals, such as trying to adopt a wild animal as a ‘pet’ or misinterpreting the actions of a wild animal.”

Take for example the story of Tilikum, a killer whale who was kept in captivity at Sea World, Orlando who quickly became a famous amusement at the park. Tilikum had a demanding schedule at Sea World, performing live shows for huge audiences each and every day (Sea World of Hurt 2017). Depsite Sea World trainers claiming they had ‘a close relationship’ with the Orca, being kept in captivity caused stress for the mammal. Over time his frustration built up, leading to aggressive behaviour towards humans. During his time at Sea World Tilikum was responsible for killing 3 trainers (Howard 2017).

This is just one example of how anthropomorphism can have negative consequences. As much as we want to pretend animals are just like humans, there are clear differences in our behaviours. Animals are not equipped to be treated a human and crossing that line, in some circumstances, can be dangerous.

Personally, I believe anthropomorphism itself doesn’t cause negative consequences. It is the way in which one interacts with animals that can cause problems to occur. It’s important to treat animals as animals. Whilst some animals are human-like, ultimately they will never be a human, so we must not treat them like they are.

Until next time,
Sophie

References

ABC Science 2006, ‘Meerkats teach their young to hunt’, ABC, 14 July, viewed 25 March 2017, <http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2006/07/14/1686635.htm?site=science/demonstrations&topic=latest&listaction=unsubscribe&gt;.

Barras, C 2008, Meerkats attend scorpion hunting kindergarten, New Scientist, viewed 25 March 2017, <https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn13807-meerkats-attend-scorpion-hunting-kindergarten/&gt;.

Disney-Pixar 2017, Bambi, Disney-Pixar, viewed 25 March 2017, <http://movies.disney.com.au/bambi&gt;.

Duncan Ball N.D, Selby, Ramble, viewed 26 March 2017, <https://www.duncanball.com.au/books_selby.html&gt;.

Howard, B 2017, ‘Why Tilikum, SeaWorld’s Killer Orca, Was Infamous’, National Geographic, 6 January, viewed 27 March 2017, <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/01/tilikum-seaworld-orca-killer-whale-dies/&gt;.

Milman, O 2016, ‘Anthropomorphism: how much humans and animals share is still contested’, The Guardian, 16 January, viewed 26 March 2017, <https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/jan/15/anthropomorphism-danger-humans-animals-science&gt;.

National Geographic 2006, ‘Meerkats Teach Pups How to Eat Risky Food, Study Says’, National Geographic, 6 July, viewed 25 March 2017, <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/07/060713-meerkats_2.html&gt;.

Nauert, R 2015, ‘Why do we anthropomorphize?’ Psych Central, 6 October, viewed 26 March 2017, <https://psychcentral.com/news/2010/03/01/why-do-we-anthropomorphize/11766.html&gt;

Phys.org 2005, Animals and Humans Experience the Same Emotions, Science X Network, viewed 27 March 2017, <https://phys.org/news/2005-09-animals-human-emotions.html&gt;.

Sea World of Hurt 2017, Over 30 Years and Three Deaths: Tilikum’s Tragic Story, PETA, viewed 27 March 2017, <http://www.seaworldofhurt.com/features/30-years-three-deaths-tilikums-tragic-story/&gt;.

Serpell, J A 2002, ‘Anthropomorphism and anthropomorphic selection beyond the “cute response”’, Society and Amimals: Journal of Human-Animal Studies, vol. 10, no. 4, pp. 83-100.

Poverty Porn: Where the suffering of others becomes ‘art’

You’re walking through the streets of the city on your way home on a Thursday afternoon. It’s just on dusk. The sun is beginning to set and people are hurrying, in a rush to get out of the cold.

You come across a small child siting in the street. The child is wearing minimal clothing, clearly not dressed for the middle of winter. He looks scared, cold, tired and hungry. You notice him clutching onto a plastic bag. Inside are the remains of somebody’s lunch as the young boy attempts to feed his small, fragile body. Your first instinct is to go over and help him right?

Now step into the shoes of a photo journalist. You see the same child. Sitting on the sidewalk. You notice that he is cold, starving and scared and know the pain on his face is real. Real tears. Real fear. You instantly take the $6000 Nikon D4 out of your bag. The pain on that poor child’s face would look even better through the lens of a camera. The blur of the crowd in the background. The sun that has almost disappeared gives the shot the perfect contrast. The lighting is perfect to capture the look of devastation on that child’s face. After all, this picture would look great in a coffee table book, right?

Poverty-by-Myempty-Bliss

‘Poverty’ by Myempty Bliss

Welcome to photo journalism. Where the suffering of others suddenly becomes an art form. Somewhat captivating. Where beauty is not pain, but pain is beauty. Capturing images that I would describe as poverty porn.

According to Collin (2009), poverty porn is “any type of media, be it written, photographed or filmed, which exploit’s the poor’s condition in order to generate the necessary sympathy for…increasing charitable donations or support for a given cause.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for giving to charity, but do images exploiting the pain and suffering of others take it too far?

When it comes to photography, and in particular, photojournalism, there is a code of ethics that one must abide by when capturing images. According to the National Press Photography Association (2017), when taking photographs one must “give special consideration to vulnerable subjects and compassion to victims or crime or tragedy.” If one were to take a photo of an emaciated child and ask for charity money after posting it on the internet, does that count as an act of compassion?

The above photo titled ‘Starving Child and Vulture’ by Kevin Carter (1993), was an award winning shot, gaining a Pulitzer Prize for best feature photography (The Pulitzer Prizes 2017). However opinions were divided with many people arguing that the steps taken by the photojournalist were “unethical” and “inhumane.” Harsh criticism was recieved by Carter for his work, despite claims by the photographer that the child was making her way to a nearby feeding centre (Neal 2017).

It is a natural human response to want to help someone who is in pain. But do images like this show the suffering of others for all the wrong reasons? In the words of Dortonne (2016), images that can be defined as ‘poverty porn’, “leaves many of us feeling uncomfortable, disconnected and guilty.” We feel pressured into donating to a charitable cause in the hope that we have ‘done the right thing’. Donations may help, but it still doesn’t stop the exploitation of impoverished human beings in order to generate sympathy.

Not only do these images exploit the conditions of people in poverty, but they seem to be mainly focused on undeveloped countries. A quick google search of ‘poverty porn pictures’ yields thousands of results of children from Somalia, Ethiopia, Chad and the like. The images are centered around some of the most undeveloped countries in the world. But did anyone stop to think about poverty in Australia? Are there not people suffering in Australia? Living below the poverty line? Sleeping on the streets because they can’t afford to live in a house?

A study by the Australian Council of Social Service (2016a), found that 2.9 million Australians live below the poverty line. 730,000 of these people are children. Those at the highest risk of poverty are the unemployed who rely on centrelink payments to get by.  “Those doing it the toughest are overwhelmingly people living on the $38 a day Newstart payment, 55% of whom are in poverty” (Australian Council of Social Service 2016b). Sadly, even with government assistance, some families are still far below the poverty line, barely affording to pay rent each week. But when it comes to poverty, the media turns a blind eye towards these Australians, shifting the focus to children in Uganda or women in Somalia.

So whilst these images exploiting starving African children are trying to make a change, it causes us to ignore the issues of poverty in our own backyard. The photographs have too much of a focus on areas outside our reach, exploiting children in Africa to try and make a buck. Meanwhile it could be our own neighbours who are suffering, living below the poverty line and struggling to survive.

Think about it.

Until next time,
Sophie

References:

Australian Council of Social Service 2016a, Poverty, Australian Council of Social Service, viewed 20 March 2017, <http://www.acoss.org.au/poverty/&gt;.

Australian Council of Social Service 2016b, Child poverty on the rise: 730,000 children in poverty, Australian Council of Social Service, viewed 20 March 2017, <http://www.acoss.org.au/media_release/child-poverty-on-the-rise-730000-children-in-poverty/&gt;.

Collin, M 2009, What is ‘poverty porn’ and why does it matter for development, Aid Thoughts, viewed 19 March 2017, <http://aidthoughts.org/?p=69&gt;.

Dortonne, N 2016, ‘The dangers of poverty porn’, CNN, 8 December, viewed 21 March 2017, <http://edition.cnn.com/2016/12/08/health/poverty-porn-danger-feat/&gt;.

Neal, L 2017, How Photojournalism Killed Kevin Carter, All That is Interesting, viewed 21 March 2017 <http://all-that-is-interesting.com/kevin-carter&gt;.

National Press Photographers Association 2017, NPPA Code of Ethics, National Press Photographers Association, viewed 21 March 2017, <https://nppa.org/code_of_ethics&gt;.

The Pulitzer Prizes 2017, Kevin Carter, The Pulitzer Prizes, viewed 21 March 2017, <http://www.pulitzer.org/winners/kevin-carter&gt;.

But first, let me take another 217 selfies

A mention of the word “selfie” is generally followed by a collective eye-roll from everyone in the room who is under the age of 17. Selfies are generally perceived as being “narcissistic” and “attention seeking”. But is the infamous self-portrait photograph with your mobile phone an act of narcissism or an act of empowerment?

Selfies and Narcissism

The link between selfies and narcissism is associated with the assumption that such photos are taken to show off one’s physical appearance. The act of taking and uploading a photo of oneself to the internet is not a new phenomenon. According to a study by the Pew Research Center (2013), 91% of American teens with a Facebook account upload photos of themselves. A further study conducted at Elon University interviewed 93 students about their photo uploading habits. 97.8% of the interviewees reported that they believe a person’s popularity is determined by the amount of likes they receive on their profile pictures (Wickel 2015). Further research revealed that 90.2% of students interviewed upload photos to social media for the sole purpose of gaining likes (Wickel 2015). I’m not sure about you, but to me this seems like a rather narcissistic act. But why has society suddenly become so worried about how they look in a photograph?

self.jpg

According to Jesse Fox (2015), leader of a study at Ohio State University, “with the growing use of social networks, everyone is more concerned with their appearance.” This has led to self-objectification becoming a significant issue within society. With the growing pressures to fit in to society and the prevalence of social media in our lives, teenagers feel the need to create “desirable online identities”, especially when it comes to photos of themselves (Wickel 2015, Gregorie 2015). Studies revealed that teens believe social media sites are essential to their life, as well as posting photos that are impressive to their audience (Pew Research Center 2015, Wickel 2015). Evidently, the habit of selfie taking can be linked to traits of narcissism due to excessive interest and self admiration being one of the motivations for uploading photos on social media.

narcissistick.jpg

Selfies and Empowerment

There have been recent discussions within society that suggest taking selfies can actually be a form of empowerment rather than an act of self-obsession. Various social media campaigns have prompted men and women to take a selfie, and upload the photo online in support of numerous social causes. The power of the selfie has been used to raise awareness for a number of prevalent societal issues such as depression, objectification of women, and mental health disorders. Not only do these campaigns change the way in which taking a selfie is perceived, but they also prove to be effective ways of making a change.

Take for example the #nomakeupselfie campaign. With the aim of raising money for cancer research, women took to the internet, posting barefaced selfies as well as making donations to Cancer Research UK or the American Cancer Society. The hashtag went viral and people all over the world jumped on board to support the cause. The social media campaign was so successful that 8 million pound was raised in just 2 days (Dockterman 2014).

large_CRUK_nomakeupselfie_2.jpg

In this circumstance, the act of taking selfies was seen in a positive light, as a form of empowerment and encouragement to raise funds for a good cause. Not only did the campaign bring awareness to the importance of cancer research, but it also taught women that it is okay to be photographed in their own skin. In particular, without layers of caked on makeup and the perfect angles and lighting and instagram filters (yep, that’s right, without the narcissistic traits).

The Dove brand is also well known for encouraging empowerment in women through their self-esteem project (Unilever 2017). The company aims to “build positive body confidence” and promote healthy relationships between a person and their appearance. The #beautyis campaign again makes use of the selfie as a form of empowerment. Dove set a challenge for women of all ages to take an honest selfie, without editing the photo, or using a filter (Gould 2014).  The aim of the campaign was to prove that all women are beautiful in their own ways, no matter their flaws. The campaign took away all forms of self-obsession and excessive interest in physical appearance. Women began supporting others in uploading photos, encouraging others and ensuring them that everyone has their own special kind of beauty (Gould 2014, Unilever 2017). That to me is pretty damn empowering.

google

The Verdict?

So are selfies an act of narcissism or an act of empowerment? Personally, I believe selfies can be seen in two different lights, however it is the context that changes what message a photo will send. Perhaps a photo with a duck face pose paired with a caption about how much you love yourself won’t send out an empowerment vibe. Similarly, posting a photo in support of a social cause won’t be deemed narcissistic. Whatever the motivation behind the photograph is, people should be able to take photos however they like (perhaps just make sure it’s internet appropriate before posting it on all 6 of your social media accounts).

Until next time,
Sophie.

References

Dockterman, E 2014, #NoMakeupSelfie Brings Out the Worst of the Internet for a Good Cause, Time, viewed 9 March 2017, <http://time.com/40506/nomakeupselfie-brings-out-the-worst-of-the-internet-for-a-good-cause/&gt;.

Gould, H 2014, ‘How to Use Social Media to Redefine Beauty’, Marie Claire, 21 January, viewed 10 March 2017, <http://www.marieclaire.com/beauty/news/a8893/dove-campaign-selfie-redefine-beauty/&gt;.

Gregorie, C 2015, Study Links Selfies To Narcissism And Psychopathy, The Huffington Post, viewed 9 March 2017, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/entry/selfies-narcissism-psychopathy_n_6429358&gt;.

Pew Research Center 2013, Teens, Social Media, and Privacy, Pew Research Center, viewed 9 March 2017, <http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/05/21/teens-social-media-and-privacy/&gt;.

Unilever 2017, The Dove Self-Esteem Project: Our Mission in Action, Dove, viewed 9 March 2017, <http://www.dove.com/uk/dove-self-esteem-project/our-mission/the-dove-self-esteem-project-our-mission-in-action.html&gt;.

Wickel, T 2015, ‘Narcissism and Social Networking Sites: The Act of Taking Selfies’Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications, vol. 6, no. 1, viewed 10 March 2017, <http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/1138/2/narcissism-and-social-networking-sites-the-act-of-taking-selfies&gt;.