Tuesday, March 17, 2009

On Anthropomorphism: Bears

My fascination with anthropomorphism began in childhood with breakfast cereals. Each cereal had an illustrated character as its mascot. Some of them were mythical creatures – leprechaun, vampire, Frankenstein, wizard, elves – and sometimes they were animals: a tiger, frog, rabbit, toucan bird, bear.

Projecting human characteristics on to animals goes back to the begining of civilization. It's such a pervasive part of culture that we don't consciously recognize it. It seems a very natural part of everyday life. From childhood we are immersed in an environment filled with anthropomorphic creatures in cartoons, movies, toys, stories and fables.

The teddy bear is a quintessential american toy. They were first created a became wildly popular after a story spread about Teddy Roosevelt refusing to shoot a bear on a hunting trip.

Teddy Bears are for nurturing.

The resemblance of character traits attributed to animals and their actual nature varies considerably. These traits and perceptions are defined largely by visual appearance. No one needs to teach a child that sharks are scary, they look the part and their reputations are well deserved. Bears on the other hand are a bit more complicated.

The story of Goldilocks and The Three Bears is one of the most popular children's fables. The bears are presented as an archetypal family unit of father, mother and child. Waiting for them in their home are three bowls of porridge, heated to the temperature of each bears preference. The beds are individually sized to fit them. The associations here are home, family, nurturing and warmth.

A mother bear and her clubs looking very much like a loving, playful family.

I've never liked the Charmin bears. They're big and lumbering. The gender of the bears seems uncertain. There size and physique projects masculinity but the way they swoon over the tissue seems is feminine and dramatic. Charmin’s use of bears tries to leverage the associations of nurturing and care. Extending them to bathroom tissues seems a stretch to me. There is no bathroom scene in Goldilocks, just kitchen (nurturing) and bedroom (comfort, rest). The Cottonelle puppy works better.

(I don't like the side-by-side on the Charmin website for the different types of tissues. Side-by-sides are usually used in comparisons, like in diaper ads. The particular red used on the left says "rash" to me.)

Bears again in the bathroom. Koalas this time, on a diaper changing station.

Gummi Bears, a chewy, playful staple of late childhood and early adolescence. Gummi Bears are for devouring.

Is the association of bears and honey based on anything real? I always though the honey bear dispensers were odd. Bees make honey. Shouldn’t the dispenser be a bee? The Bear steals the honey from the bee and we squeeze the honey out of the bear and it come out of his hat.

Yogi, a scheming, lazy bear that lives in a national park. Yogi spends most of his time trying to steal picnic baskets and gets himself and his friend Boo Boo into trouble in the process.

Another national park bear, Smokey. An serious, authoritative spokesperson for the prevention of forest fires. I never liked him. As a child I thought he was a mean bastard.

Real bears in national parks are best known for destroying cars, campsites and killing nature lovers.

Timothy Treadwell, a bear enthusiast featured in the documentary Grizzly Man was killed by the very animals he loved and protected.

The use of a bear as a symbol by the Soviet Union may come closest to being true to their nature and temperament.

Just for the fun of it, Gummi Bear Anatomie. A clever undermining of a beloved children’s candy

We used to play this old record when I was a child. Strange and foreboding.

1 comment:

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