Tag Archives: animal representations

Voicing the Voiceless

Earlier today as I stood in line at checkout, I overheard one of the cashiers at another line ooh over a customer’s baby. “Look at her, she’s like, ‘I just wanna go back to sleep,'” the cashier said.

I thought about how quickly we map our expectations onto other beings, how easily we imbue them with personalities of our own designs. And how we tend to do this for those who can’t “speak” for themselves: babies and animals.

My pets have distinct personalities, but I’m not fooling myself. I know these personalities spring not from them, but from my idea of them. My interpretations of their behaviors. I speak for them in silly voices, attributing reactions and thoughts that they very well may not have.

I’ve caught myself doing the same thing to babies. My friend and I were hanging out with her toddler, and I found myself saying things like, “he’s like, ‘mm, mysterious berries!” or “he says, ‘I dunno about this strange lady.'” How presumptuous of me!

When we speak for animals and for babies, we privilege our interpretation of them over the ways in which they are already communicating with us. They have personalities, but can we recognize them? How much of a being’s personality originates with them, and how much is in the mind of the beholder? This is back to the classic conundrum of intent vs. interpretation, which I tried to suss out a few weeks ago.

And how can we even begin to untangle this when considering cases of pet personality development, much less human personality development? Luckily, I think humans are pretty good at asserting themselves when push comes to shove, outsider interpretations be damned. But until they can do so verbally, they’re at a disadvantage. Those of us who can speak tend to do so for them unless we really check ourselves. Hopefully their development isn’t too much at our mercy.

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Filed under Animals, Childhood, Power

Artful Bodies: “The Michelangelo of Taxidermy”

NPR’s All Things Considered aired a story earlier today about four centenarian hyenas who reside in the Chicago Field Museum. The hyenas were revealed to be the work of the notorious Carl Akley, described by Field Museum exhibit developer Sarah Crawford as “pretty much the Michelangelo of taxidermy.”

This phrase filled me with a particular type of glee, the same glee I often felt while researching my theses on human-animal relationships (first in North Dakota, then at Lincoln Park’s Farm-in-the-Zoo). In addition to awkward interviews and tentative field-work, I read some epiphanic books and articles about zoos, language, museums, abattoirs, systems of classification, Theodore Roosevelt, and taxidermy. All of these things are related.

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Filed under Animals, Contemporary, Historical

On the Superiority of German Playgrounds: A Photo-Essay with a Dubious Argument and One-sided Evidence

During recent travels in Northern Europe (please excuse the pretentiousness) I was taken by the variety and creativity of German playground equipment. It struck me how hideous (okay, so that’s a subjective aesthetic evaluation) and clone-like the playgrounds in the U.S. tend to be. Cookie-cutter jungle-gyms, swing sets, and slides. Not much that feeds the imagination. They are getting better, but they still have a ways to go if the goal is a magical land of outdoor play-time. Feast your eyes on these German examples and see if you don’t agree that we could learn something about incorporating whimsy and general awesomeness into our parks designed for children.

First, a relatively simple one:

This mundane park in a suburb of Bremerhaven consists of two sandboxes, a slide, a swing-set, and a spring-loaded, rocking, red animal-thing. I can attest to the fun-factor of this playground, as I used it extensively during my toddler years. The equipment has been there since before I arrived on the scene in ’86, so there’s also a sturdy factor involved in the manufacturing of German playground equipment.

Next, we journey to Berlin, a grown-up playground of beautiful graffiti, imposing communist architecture, historical monuments and museums for atrocities, a nightlife catering to the unemployed masses, and somewhat surprisingly child-friendly areas. As I wandered back toward the hostel one afternoon, I came across a hippie paradise for children and their parents. Allow me to demonstrate:

This is a collaborative community project of a park geared toward the non-adult population. It went on for days and had a waffle stand (the deliciousness of which I can vouch for), a community center, an area for smaller children with hills and artsy places to climb, and postings for classes and happenings. When I visited it was still being worked on and I imagine it was an ongoing process of creativity. A man was busy shoving fence posts into the dirt as a passing boy watched, and you could hear all sorts of banging and sawing going on in the back. It was a creative mecca.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It also had a bunny zoo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And a water section. In another area, there was a fire pit going and some dangerously steep slides for teenagers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just look at this amazing community center entrance!

As you can see from the striped tape, it was still under construction…or maybe they were trying to encourage the grass to grow.

 

Last, we journey to Bergadorf, a suburb of Hamburg, to what I affectionately and nostalgically refer to as “Dawn’s Park.”

Okay, big deal. This is just a train. It doesn’t event go anywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

BAM! Blue elephant slide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And a wiggily crocodile!

 

 

 

In conclusion, German playgrounds are superior to their U.S. counterparts because they are all like this. Seriously awesome in unique ways. So catch up, America. Don’t make me take my hypothetical offspring elsewhere for their formative years…you may never get them and their future taxes back.

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Filed under Art of all Kinds, Contemporary, Sweeping Generalizations