Animal Studies Bibliography
Lawrence, Elizabeth. 1986. In the Mick of Time: Reflections on Disney's AgelessMouse. Journal of Popular Culture 20(2): 65-72.
In this article Lawrence discusses the phenomenon of humanizing animals, specifically the process of neotinization, or portraying animals as having childlike qualities. She focuses on Mickey Mouse in particular, stating that as one of the most highly anthropomorphized of all animal figures encountered in presentday life, it is not surprising that virtually no one perceives of Mickey primarily as a mouse, but rather he is seen as a special kind of youngster (p. 66). She argues that Mickey is a channel through which people are able to revert back to their youth.
Lawrence connects this idea to ideas about human neoteny, asserting that neoteny refers to a condition in which there is retention of youthful characteristics in the adult form. Scholars have pointed out that human beings represent a neotenous species because we retain into maturity certain traits which were originally juvenile features of other primates (p. 67). Further, she states that the process of self-domestication is evident in the fact that various races of mankind specialize in remaining infantile in some particular trait (p. 67). She then goes on to talk about our domestication of animals and how this process includes trying to bring selective pressures on them which often resulted in neotenization (p. 67). She discusses reasons for this, such as parental care responses, which cause humans to respond more emotionally to characteristics like large eyes, smaller limbs, and rounded cheeks (p. 67).
She then transitions back to Mickey Mouse and talks about the process of neotenization that he went through, becoming progressively more neotenized over time. She talks about his roundness, especially his round ears, which bear virtually no resemblance to those of an actual rodent (p. 68). It is stated that circles are not viewed as threatening, making him more safe and attractive to humans.
Lawrence also discusses the way in which neotenization has been linked to the development of more obedient, submissive behavior on the part of animals that have been domesticated. She talks about how neotenization of animals is carried on because it benefits humans. She claims that humans neotenize other species because of our species' need for nurturance and imperative for dominance (p. 70).
She asserts that what is of particular interest is the association of neoteny with perceptions of youth, age, and mortality all themes in the overriding human concern with the element of time (p. 70). Mickey Mouse and other animals that we neotenize carry us back to a state of youth through their permanent juvenility. She claims that Mickey has the power to neotenize humans through his presence in every arena of life, including on students' t-shirts on college campuses. Lawrence maintains that Mickey stands for that liminal status which is said to be characteristic of the college years in our society, when as a youth one is set apart not yet assimilated into the adult world and awaiting full membership in society (p. 71).
She goes on to discuss how Mickey's state of permanent youth keeps him from attaining something that is sometimes valued above youth in our society the wisdom of old age. It is argued that this separation from old age and wisdom makes Mickey simpler to relate to than a human offspring, or even a petthe irrepressible child-mouse delights us without imposing responsibility or threat (p. 71). Lawrence reiterates that Mickey was not made for children alone. She ends the article with some words from Walt Disney himself, who said that Mickey's audience is made up of parts of people; of the deathless, precious, ageless, absolutely primitive remnant of something in every world-racked human being which makes us play with children's toys and laugh without self-consciousness at silly things, and sing in bathtubs, and dream and believe that our babies are uniquely beautiful. You know, the Mickey in us (p. 72).