Animal Studies Bibliography

Neal, Arthur G. 1985. Animism and totemism in popular culture. Journal of Popular Culture 19(2): 15-23.

In modern culture we perceive a large difference between animals and humans. Nonetheless, we often use animal symbolism and imagery to describe our world. Our use of animal symbols serves to help us deal with uncertainty or unusual events, to express concerns about personal mastery and control over events, to express membership and belonging, [and] to give meaning and purpose to what would otherwise be a set of incoherent and meaningless events (16). Our use of animal insults to denote that a person's behavior is unacceptable serves to connect us to animals rather than to make a clear distinction. Use of this language creates a totemic connection between animal and person, asserting their kinship and therefore their (biologically) shared traits. Beliefs about animals also create boundaries around acceptable and unacceptable human behavior, as evidenced in our eating patterns. Which animal is considered polluting is eaten varies by culture and is not linked to any objective nutritional need. Maintenance of these boundaries helps keep each groups' universe orderly. In modern culture, youth organizations, military units, and sports teams use animals as totemic symbols to signify (and serve as visual referent for) group hopes and ideals, create a sense of group belonging, and express hopes for attainment of the group's goal. The animals' qualities are exaggerated to provide the group a characteristic to emulate. The symbol becomes a magical device for reducing the inherent uncertainty of the outcome (e.g. a military unit with a rainbow as symbol, in which many soldiers reported seeing rainbows over the combat field at times when, meteorologically, they could not have). These totems are only used in selected areas of life--for example, the school mascot appears at sporting events, but would not be accepted as a part of the classroom or library routine. This reflects the nature of contemporary culture, in which aspects of people's lives as compartmentalized, and people belong to various separate groups at the same time. One major use of animal totems in the naming of cars. Early in car production, cars were compared to horses (e.g. horse power) to emphasize the shift in types of transportation. One the shift became overwhelming, animal naming came to link an animal and its traits to a car, in an attempt to link car makers, sellers, and owners through a shared desire for some particular type of lifestyle reflected by the animal being used. Animal symbolism is further meaningful because in modern culture, the car represents not just transportation, but freedom of movement; association with an animal, something free in its habitat, furthers this sense of the car's meaning. Another major use of animal imagery is the bulls and bears of wall street. This use reflects both types of animal totemism--the bulls embody hopes, and the bears symbolize fears and risks. The use of such symbolism helps minimize the uncertainty of the risks involved in the stock market, as well as simplifying the job of prediction by leaving only two possibilities. In short, animals are both exalted as carriers of desired qualities and are degraded as low forms of life. These two possibilities both reflect that distance we see between ourselves and animals, and the ambivalence of the overall picture reflects out uncertainty about whether modern human culture is good or bad. Using animal symbols in our communication is a way to indirectly express emotions like hope and fear, since the meaning is not said outright, and the listener must fill in the meanings attached to the animal.



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