Bear propaganda; animals have the best PR teams in the world

A few years ago I confessed – in A Bug’s Life, the sequel – that Da Gulrz have had to listen to their dad gripe about Disney ad nauseum, especially its films’ treatment of nature.  I’m constantly reminding my spawn that nature is not cute talking animals, but is in fact “red in tooth and claw.”  With Gaia as my witness – I should be Father of the Year!

Jonah Goldberg has a similar take in the 12/31/13 National Review:

You Beast, You!

‘It’s trying to eat her face.”

That was my wife’s reaction to a credit-card ad showing a woman looking out the window of a tour bus in the Arctic at a polar bear, standing on its hind legs, its nose just inches below. Or at least I think it was a credit-card ad. It doesn’t really matter, because no matter what the product or the venue, if it features bears in a charming, friendly, or cartoonish light, the missus is quick to point out that bears eat faces.

When my daughter was three, we were watching a documentary in which someone is feeding grizzly cubs. My wife stumbles in like she caught me exposing my daughter to the director’s cut of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake (“Now with even more desensitizing violence!”). “What is this?” she asks.

“Oh Mommy. Look at the baby!” my daughter replies.

“It’s bear propaganda. It will grow up to eat your face.”

Now, as many readers know, my wife has somewhat special dispensation to complain about bears; she’s from Fairbanks, Alaska, where bears aren’t an abstraction (though they do stay out of the city proper). Every summer when I head up there, the local newspaper has at least a couple of stories about bear attacks, occasionally with face-eating.

This all came to mind after I read a piece by Ross Pomeroy for Real Clear Science. Pomeroy, a zoologist by training, took it upon himself to fact-check a new short film about the Coca-Cola polar bears directed by Ridley Scott. As gently as he can, Pomeroy details how virtually every single thing about the film is, as my wife would say, “bear propaganda.” Polar bears — particularly vicious carnivores — don’t live as nuclear families. The fathers spend about a week with the ladies for a “last tango in the Arctic” and then live solitary lives. The moms chase off the cubs once they’re old enough. Oh, one other thing about the dads: If the supply of adorable and delicious seals runs low, the grown males can get peckish and, when that happens, they’ve been known to eat polar-bear cubs.

Odd how that scene didn’t make it into the Coca-Cola cartoon.

Animals have the best PR teams in the world. There’s nary a Muppet, Disney, Looney Tunes, or Pixar critter whose real-life habits aren’t bizarre, disgusting, or barbaric by human standards. Even chimpanzees — so like us, you noble citizens of the forest! — are pretty horrifying once they grow out of their human diapers. This is a family publication, but suffice it to say that you men out there should count yourselves lucky if a chimp attacks you and merely eats your face.

It seems to me that bear propaganda — as well as monkey spin, bunny agitprop, lion lyin’, and pig puffery — has increased as humanity has come to like itself less. In the Middle Ages, animals were creatures to be feared. It’s only when humans become the bad guys that the animals become the good guys. The irony, of course, is that the only way we can sell wild animals as better than humans is by making them act like idealized humans in animal costumes. There’s something oddly touching about that.


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