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Monday, August 16, 2010


Anthropomorphism: the impulse to give human traits to animals, or in other words, why we think it’s funny to see a chimp in a 3 piece suit, smoking a cigar while roller skating.
As a sophisticated techno-savvy society, we all hate to admit that we are dumb enough to believe that animals think like we do. I guess it’s our limited intelligence or just plain human nature to want to humanize animals. This same impulse is responsible for why some parents want to turn their innocent little girls into miniature Tammy Fay Bakers and parade them around a children’s beauty pageant.
It doesn’t help matters that some animals seem to model a few of our bad behaviors, making it even more tempting to point our finger and say, “Look! We aren’t the only jerks on the planet!” This and our subsequent anthropomorphizing is all an attempt to not look as greedy, selfish, and self-destructive as we really are. “Hey that dog drools in his sleep and he licks his butt…we’re not so bad after all!”
Some animals are better examples of crappy human behavior than others. The first one that comes to mind is the opossum. I have to say that I feel kind of sorry for the opossum because they are so...well, so…damn ugly! I came across one recently, early in the morning, as he was running across the road. It was more like stumbling than running with an odd stiff gait and hair sticking up all over the place, all while dragging his naked tail behind him. He reminded me of someone who had been on a drinking binge, fell asleep in the gutter, only to then jump up and rush home before the Mrs. found out.
The poor opossum has that ghastly white face, looking like the walking dead even when he’s not playing dead. This brings me to the opossum’s pathetic excuse for a defense mechanism – playing dead. I mean, he’s not even putting any effort into, is he? Why doesn’t he run away fast like a rabbit or at least climb a tree or something? I am starting to wonder if maybe the opossum suffers from clinical depression. Wouldn’t you be sad if you were the only marsupial in North America? Add to it that no one knows how to pronounce your name, and of course the fore mentioned drinking problem. And let’s face it; it’s hard to get busy with the Mrs. when she’s always lugging around the little ones in her pouch. It’s enough to make any one want to take a few dozen Prozac.
It could be that the opossum suffers from and inferiority complex because he is constantly being compared to the raccoon. When a raccoon knocks over a garbage can, he gets shooed away and called a rascal. If you’re an opossum, people say, “EWWW!” and throw bricks at your head and make gagging noises when they see your tail.
The raccoon, on the other hand, is the Dennis the Menace of the animal world with its mischievous personality, dexterous black hands that can open anything, and that endearing oh-so-bushy striped tail. Even when we know he’s being bad, we still think he’s just so darn cute. A raccoon also reminds me of a certain kind of man. You know the type; he’s an adorable man\child who is excused of so many of his misdeeds because of his boyish good looks and charm.
But don’t be fooled. You should always be suspicious of any animal that wears a mask. Whether God felt a need to hide the raccoon’s identity or it was from natural selection, either scenario does not speak highly of the raccoon’s character.
Like the raccoon, the chipmunk is one precocious little varmint. He is nature’s child with ADHD, always flitting here and there and then loosing focus and scurrying off into another direction- all at maximum speed. But in all fairness, we should not expect sedate behavior from an animal that has racing stripes.
Speaking of sedate behavior, the bear takes being laid back a little too far; in fact he shows a remarkable resemblance to some of my husband’s bachelor friends. First there’s all that scratching and a general slovenly appearance with burs sticking to his fur, unkempt toenails, and berry stains down his front. A bear is a champion over sleeper, and a bit overweight, maybe not from beer, but honey does contain a lot of calories. There is also all that grumbling and groaning, and grunting that bears do, eerily similar to the noises that come from a human male whenever a football player makes a fumble.
One of my favorite creatures is the mocking bird, but I have to say that it reminds me of someone’s annoying little brother who repeats everything you say.
Everything you say.
Stop copying me!
Stop copying me!
Mooom, Kevin won’t stop copying meee!
Mooom, Kevin won’t stop copying meee!
Well, you get the idea, except that the mocking bird does his replication in beautiful song form-so unlike an irritating little brother.
I have come to the conclusion that the real reason behind our anthropomorphizing is that it’s easier for our brains to assign human traits to our animal friends than to actually learn what their chirps and growls mean. I do think it is juvenile and maybe even disrespectful to the entire animal kingdom to assume that they behave like us or even to think about dressing up any creature in clothing. But, I have to admit (I swear it was my kids and that I had nothing to so with it) that our kitten is the exact size of an American Girl doll and looks stunning in Kit Kiterage’s dress and hat (although she won’t hold the tiny handbag and she always kicks off the shoes!!!)

Copy write 2010 cwaldman