Talking animals topic betrays culture-blind critics
by Patch O'Furr
Last year, a Flayrah news article drew outsiders who had never encountered Furries.
One wrote: “You all need therapy!”
I answered: “This IS our therapy, silly!”
Friends at Flayrah just reminded me about it. Dronon posted:
Chair of the Canadian Education Committee thinks that talking animals in children’s books are detrimental to education. …Aw darnit, scratch that – It’s a fake, satirical article. Well done!
Some believe that the report of the Chinese banning “Alice in Wonderland” in 1931 because “talking animals are false” is an urban legend. Nobody can find such a law as having been passed.
Rakuen Growlithe added:
Dronon, there’s actually a bit of truth underlying the satire.
The topic led me to find that, although it may be satirized… yes, it has some truth.
Here’s news from March 2014. The top 10 talking animal tales and what they help teach our kids:
“Psychologists in Canada claim Winnie the Pooh and Rupert Bear are actually BAD for children’s learning… because animals don’t talk or wear human clothes in real life”.
The article cites “Psychologist Professor Patricia Ganea”. I looked her up, found more articles, and her research journal study published in April 2014:
Do cavies talk? The effect of anthropomorphic picture books on children’s knowledge about animals.
The headlines are unfairly misleading. The study focuses on science teaching, not imaginative storytelling. Of course you wouldn’t prefer Mickey Mouse for a class lecture about animal habitats. The bible isn’t a reference for physics, either- it’s meant for other things.
I briefly skimmed the study, and suspected that its use of picture books may make one of those “water is wet!” conclusions. It could invite criticism for methods. (Could there be more control to compare teaching methods, besides picture books? There’s also an issue about children answering to please researchers.) But set that aside. Bottom line: science is one thing, stories are another.
I’m happy to say, despite being misled by headlines, nothing bugs me about Professor Ganea’s intentions. (Actually, I’ll email her and ask if she would be nice enough to comment.) But this brings up other critics who could stand to loosen up a little.
Art criticism time: Shocking editorial opinions!
Judging fiction for “realism” vs. “unrealism” reminds me of people who pick apart movies in a very literal way. Unless they’re documentaries, don’t! Respect storytelling. Let it be a sandbox, where things can crumble if you touch them. Value isn’t just in surface perfection, but also in the building. In movies, I want more rough edges… and less overcooked visual effects that value producing over creating, and money over art. (Does this tell you about why I love furries, including irredeemable “bad taste” they may represent to outsiders?)
In a similar way, don’t dignify severely literal, rigid politics about imaginary characters who make “unrealistic body standards.” E.g: “Why is Disney still making female characters with such cartoon-ish bodies?” … (Is it because they make cartoons?!)
One target is Elsa, in Disney’s Frozen, who has Magic Hands. (That’s not realistic!) – Here’s a good satirical answer: Bratz Dolls May Give Young Girls Unrealistic Expectations Of Head Size.
The politics betray blindness for creative license – and power to tell truth from fiction. (Even kids can get that magic fiction holds “truth” without “reality”.) Yes, characters can be homogeneous from “efficient industrial design”. But type-casting isn’t actually a bad thing. It’s process, and a tool. It comes with the painstaking discipline of animating frame-by-frame (let complainers master that before assuming authority)- and formal principle of appeal.
“Appeal” can be very technical, and come from expressive distortion. The more caricature in “unrealistic” characters, the less boring. Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit is an “offensive” caricature, if politics are the only measure… but it’s not. Speaking of offense, Grimm’s fairy tales, “one of the founding works of Western culture”, had plenty of criticism for sex and violence that isn’t suitable for children… what would storytelling be without it?
I DID just praise rough edges, then turn around and defend slick “industrial design”. Either one before politics! This is all highly subjective to meaning. In the end, if storytelling is solid, that’s what matters.
If character design is confined to over-“realism”- and proportions must represent “real people”- there’s already a term for it: shitty rotoscoping. Watch the least successful Ralph Bakshi animation to see it’s stiff, dull result. That kind of thing has a place, but “correctness” doesn’t serve artists OR watchers. History had a paralell: Soviet Socialist Realism. Rigid authority is as bad as the excesses of exaggeration. Leave taste to artists and audiences. Not over-educated idiots with more agenda-loaded opinions than imagination.
I’d just like to point out that Jessica Rabbit was actually a kind, devoted, loving wife who wanted nothing but the best for Roger. She wasn’t making a pun or joking in any way when she said, “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way.”
Thanks, HappyWulf! That’s what I was getting at.
Thanks for talking about our research and for inviting me to comment. I am glad to see that you resisted drawing sweeping conclusions from our study, unlike the reporters from Daily Mail did.
Regarding your first comment about our methods, our goal was not to compare different teaching methods for science education but rather to compare different types of books in how effective they are at teaching children facts about novel animals, by manipulating the type of language and pictures used. We also wanted to see whether books that anthropomorphize animals lead children to interpret animals from a psychological human perspective. Our study may appear as one of those “water is wet” type of studies as you mention, however many of the things we do to teach children are believed to work when in fact they don’t.
Regarding your second comment about children answering to please the experimenter, if that was the case children in all book conditions should have answered the same because the questions were the same across book conditions. I agree with you that “science is one thing, stories are another”; however, given children’s interest in stories I think that we could aim to write stories that spark children’s love for science while at the same time provide them with accurate information about the world. There are not many books like that out there!
As for creating and reading good fiction in general, I do not think we disagree at all!
Thanks Patricia- that’s a fantastic comment! I’m in no way a researcher (just someone with a blog) so you take all authority on that. Actually I’d love to highlight the comment with a modest repost. I’ll send a thank-you in email as well.