Animal Studies Bibliography

Church, Jill Howard. 1996. In Focus: How the media portray animals. The Animals' Agenda 16(1): 24-28.

George Gerber led a study funded by the Ark Trust entitled Animal issues in the media: A groundbreaking report. The study examined primetime and Saturday morning programming from 1972 to 1993 on ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox. The report produced 6 major findings. First, there was a considerable amount of violence against and by animals, and this occurred much more in kid's programming than in primetime. Animals were also portrayed as villains much more often than were humans. For every 10 good animals in primetime, for example, there were 7 bad ones. Dogs were the most commonly shown animals in primetime, probably because they are the easiest to train. The repeated image of threatening animals makes abuse of the animals seem justified. There is little to suggest the common fate we have with animals as part of our shared ecosystem. Second, animals are disproportionately shown as nuisances and dangerous threats to humans. Third, wild animals are treated worse than are other types of animals (especially when they are in their own habitats) mistreated 4 times as much as they were treated well. This may be due to a utilitarian view of nature, in which we see anything we can't use as a threat. Fourth, animals were more likely to be cast as villains (bothersome but not threatening) than were human characters, among whom hero characters outweighed villains much more than was the case among animal characters. Fifth, animal rights activists were almost always portrayed as violent, and disapproval of their activities was shown much more often than approval. Sixth, based on an analysis of the New York Times Index and the Reader's Guide to Periodicals , there were 6 basic types of print items relating to animals: activism, policy/legislation/law enforcement, treatment of animals, animal welfare, science, and media/education. Most stories fell into the first two types. There were peaks in coverage around the times of the Animal Welfare Act's passage in 1967 and the Endangered Species Act's passage in 1973. In popular magazines, most stories relating to animals are about scientific findings on their behavior and biology, not about animal rights. These findings suggest that we value animals based in part on how useful they are to humans. So much exposure to violence against animals, further, may be a part of our culture of violence' and may increase violence against people or at least contribute to desensitizing us to violence. The way animals are portrayed in the media may be connected to the need to avoid offending corporate sponsors like the meat industry. Public feedback criticizing negative portrayals of animals may be able to change the types of images we're seeing. Much more study needs to be done on this important topic.


Visit the Michigan State University Homepage Return to the Animal Studies Homepage