viernes, 2 de abril de 2010

What is it that we see when we look at images of animals? More specifically, what it is we see when we look at images of animal courtship and coupling? Elizabeth Grosz suggests that we hope to see a bit of ourselves:

Animals continue to haunt man’s imagination, compel him to seek out their habits, preferences and cycles, and provide models and formulae by which he comes to represent his own desires, needs and excitements. The immense popularity of nature programmes on television, of books on various animal species, beloved or feared, and the work of naturalists recording data for scientific study, all testify to a pervasive fascination with the question of animal sex: how do animals do it? How do elephants
make love (the standard old joke: very carefully)? How do snakes copulate? What are the pleasures of the orangu-tang, the gorilla, the chimpanzee?

A great deal of televisual evidence suggests that Grosz is right. Part of the human fascination with images of animals is voyeuristic, deriving from curiosity about sexual activity, theirs and ours. Indeed, images and explications of animals’ mating practices have entered the standard repertoire of scenes in wildlife narratives (…)

Human fascination with other species’ mating habits is more than a voyeuristic glance at the ways of animal-Others, whose bodies may be similar to our own (as in the case of primates) or different, to greater or lesser extents (as in the cases of snakes, insects, elephants). It is also a search, as Grosz argues, for explanations of our own desires and justifications for our deeds.Wildlife television has provided a steady stream of images
of mating and other social behaviors that provide just these explanations. Derek Bousé, in Wildlife Films, reminds his readers that this preoccupation is essentially a postwar trend: “the pervasiveness of mating, reproduction, and the rearing of young in wildlife films today make it easy to forget that these were not always mainstays of the genre. In its earliest years they were not even present (…)the predominant prewar wildlife filmmaking style—the expedition film, undertaken by both big-game hunters and “camera-hunters”—emphasized human encounters with animals rather than relationships among animals, sexual, familial, or otherwise. Later, these themes became commonplace for reasons that can be found among larger trends in television content and competition, and in the genre’s development of new forms of spectacle and articulations of new scientific claims. Once television became the primary outlet for wildlife nonfiction, the centrality of the family and, later, sex should come as little surprise. Television has been a mechanism for engineering and imaging the American family since its widespread popular acquisition from 1948 to 1960 (…)

When the wildlife genre intensifies its attention to mate selection, this trend is commensurate with trends in other TV genres. By the 1970s, the once-almost-exclusively domestic and typically prudish sitcom had begun to branch out of the home and into workplace settings, with characters drawn from peer rather than family groups. Dating became an increasingly primary theme of shows (…)These shows scrutinized (and sometimes satirized) the process through which participants evaluate one another as potential sex partners, second dates, or longer-term commitments.Meanwhile, wildlife filmmakers have tackled much the same material, utilizing more explicit representations of animal sexual behavior than permissible within representations of humans (…)

A famous example of a controversial image in a popular American wildlife documentary was the depiction of the birth of an American bison calf in Disney’s True-Life Adventure The Vanishing Prairie (1954) (…)American television resisted depictions of explicitly sexual behaviors for nearly three decades (…)Now, scenes of births and sexual behaviors have become commonplace throughout nonfiction animal programming.Watching animals’ reproductive behaviors is framed as ironically wholesome, both entertaining and educational, both feel-good and good for you. As Jane C. Desmond has pointed out, in regard to the tourist experience of watching live animal sex during mating-season tours of the elephant seal colony at Año Nuevo State Park in California, “Were these humans, of course,” she writes, “the site would be closed down immediately. But sex among animals is nature at its most natural (…)

Still, many wildlife films continue to avoid representations of mating behaviors that might be considered sexually explicit (…)Other examples of the genre move directly from scenes of courtship to birthing, skipping the sex act and the intervening months of pregnancy (…)The interval between mate selection and the emergence of the two-week-old litter from the birth den is collapsed into a two-and-a-half-minute sequence that contains more information
about the pack’s cooperation as a reproductive unit, an extended family comprised of more helpers than breeders, than about the biology of wolf reproduction itself. Representations of copulation, of events throughout the three-month gestation period, and of birth itself are simply omitted, as if too messy, too indelicate, too extraneous to a narrative that leaps from picturesque canine pair-bonding to the first peek at a litter of furry, squealing, stub-nosed pups. Flying Casanovas and Wolves at Our Door illustrate two typical narrative trajectories in which treatments of the reproductive lives of animals confine their interests to behaviors that precede or follow copulation. However, the trend since commercial proliferation of the wildlife genre in the mid-1980s has been away from such narrative ellipses and toward increasingly explicit depictions of sexual (and predatory) behavior (…)

A scene that shows male and female pandas mating in NHK’s Giant Panda Sho-San and His First Year (1995, produced by Tazuhiko Kobayashi, filmed by Masaki Watanabe) lasts under half a minute. In a medium long shot, the pandas’ bodies fill much of the frame. The male clasps the female’s hips with his front paws and mounts her; the shot lasts some twenty seconds. A five-second, extreme long shot of the pandas in the same position follows. Unlike the kinds of close looking provided by pornography—which makes identification between viewer and performer possible, bringing the viewer into the act so that seeing substitutes for touching—the shot imposes distance between the scene of animal sex and the viewer (…)

The usual brevity of these scenes signals that most of these programs are not about mating, but one of many animal behaviors in a sequence of events that constitutes a narrative of animal life (…)Images of animal sex became commonplace in the wildlife genre not long after new theories about sexual behavior, both human and animal, had begun to emerge from the biological sciences into popular discourse (…)wildlife was a genre already loaded with natural history facts, preoccupied with reproduction (if historically given to consigning the reproductive act to the viewer’s interpolative imagination), and through its anthropomorphizing legacy, rife with loose associations between animal and human behavior (…) As Eileen Crist shows in a wide-ranging study, scientists of various disciplinary orientations, from Charles Darwin to the sociobiologist, have utilized anthropomorphizing language to draw analogies between animal and human behavior. Some of Darwin’s own writings contain some of same saccharine metaphors that Disney and Uys would later employ: “pigeons . . . rarely prove unfaithful to each other. Even when the male does break his marriage-vow, he does not permanently desert his mate” (emphasis added). Thus Darwin appears to impose on the avian pairbond the sentiments of human romantic and legal relations (…)

Scientists (and those who document their work, such as journalists and wildlife filmmakers), like the rest of us may be biased in their inter-pretations of animal behavior by their dependence on their own human experiences for linguistic resources with which to name and explain nonhuman behaviors, and by ideological and scientific standpoints, explicit and implicit, conscious and unconscious. As Jennifer Terry argues, “laboratories, like zoos, are sites of voyeurism.We look to the sexual behavior of animals to give meaning to human social relations, and by doing so, we engage in imaginative acts that frequently underscore culturally dominant ideas about gender and sexuality.” (…) Sometimes knowledge about an animal is simply knowledge about an animal. “There is not a moral to every story in animal behavior. Sometimes a snake is just a snake, and sometimes snake sex is only about sex in snakes, or sex in egglaying reptiles.” (…)

While much interest in sex, animal and human—in society at large, in science, and in media—focuses on so-called normative heterosexual courtship, pair-bonding, and reproduction, other kinds of sexual behaviors also garner substantial scrutiny and study, their motives and ramifications subject to heated debate. For instance, in the 1970s, feminists and some sociobiologists turned their attention to rape (…) Meanwhile,
some sociobiologists sought to understand what motivates rape among humans by observing instances of forcible copulation among nonhuman animals. New scientific theories of rape appear to have been overlooked in most popular genres, but forcible copulation among animals became a topic of interest in wildlife film, sometimes extrapolated, implicitly or explicitly, to human behavior (…) In 1977 David P. Barash first published an article describing instances in which male mallard ducks abandon typical courting behaviors and “rape” resistant females whose mates are absent (…) animal “rape” became an important sociobiological question, and sociobiology became a vocal counterdiscourse to the feminist analysis of rape (…)

Barash, then, recasts rape as an evolutionary adaptation, a (male) reproductive strategy developed to overcome female choosiness. Criminal, yes, Barash adds, even as he almost commends the rapist for fashioning an alternative, “next best” strategy when social norms fail him, and excuses him as “misguided . . . doing the best [he] can.” Almost immediately, some behavioral biologists began to critique the use of human social categories by sociobiologists to describe animal behaviors. Animal behaviorists Daniel Q. Estep and Katherine E. M. Bruce suggested the use of the term “resisted mating,” arguing that the term “rape” in regard to nonhuman animals is “sensationalistic [and] imprecise.” Patricia Adair Gowaty also argued against sociobiologists’ use of language that applies “anthropocentric value judgments of the activities of nonhuman animals…

Extractos de "Watching Wildlife - Cynthia Chris"

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