This post hits rather close to home for me. There is an issue that comes up often in any type of animal rescue work that has people in the field up in arms – movies/media. You might also say stories, or any kind of entertainment for that matter.
I was neck-deep in the issue when “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” was released. Everywhere I turned people were criticizing the movie, terrified about the potential abuse and homelessness cases that would be called in after the “fad” passed.
Within the past couple years, “Rio” also came out in theaters and people in the Avian Welfare community were also terrified about what that could mean for captive and wild birds.
The paranoia is justified. Statistically, it’s been shown that pop culture references to animals increases the popularity of those animals as pets (Benji, Old Yeller, etc.) Does that mean that animals shouldn’t be mentioned in pop culture at all?
I felt my wife psychically smack me over the head once when we sat in a staff meeting and I mentioned out loud that my inspiration to getting started in this field dated back to Looney Tunes cartoons. In all honesty though, had it not been for Bugs, Daffy, Tweety and Wile E. (along with the Disney counterparts) my interest in animals would have simply passed by without leaving so much as a mental ripple in my mind.
Like it or not, I have pop culture to blame for getting me interested in animals. From there, thanks to my parents’ moral lessons and my own thought process, I was able to connect the dots and eventually find my way to the Animal Welfare world.
Now, the “close to home” part? A couple years ago I finished writing my own Middle Grade work of fiction that follows the adventures of a small flock of parrots. Since completion, it’s been bogged down by edits, rewrites and held in limbo during submissions. During one of these recent edits before sending it off again, it occurred to me that if this book ever gets published, it’s likely people could look at it and label it the same as they have other stories like it.
You know what? The hell with them! If you remove all the pop culture animal stories out there, who’s going to get the future generations involved in this type of work? You can’t light a fire without first having a spark. Stories like this, that appeal to these younger generations are that spark.
(And yes, I’m now beating my head against my desk after realizing that I can validly say “younger generation” and not include myself!)
It’s up to the people setting that “spark” though, to do so responsibly. Same as a real fire, you don’t just light it and walk away until 100,000 acres of forest are torched. The people writing the stories and making the movies need to be responsible and teach a lesson, either within or apart from the story, that will educate the audience and leave them with a greater understanding of the issues.