Is Bambi a bad influence? Disney and the real animal kingdom


First aired on Tooth and Claw (27/08/13)

Is Bambi a bad influence? Generations of North Americans have grown up with their impressions of the animal world filtered through Disney. But has the portrayal of animals in those films and cartoons been a force for good or ill for the real animal world? Tooth and Claw put that question to a number of authors featured on the show.

Lily Rath McCaulou McCaulou, author of The Call of the Mild: Learning to Hunt My Own Dinner, acknowledged that her view of hunting as a child was influenced by Disney. "Well, I had watched Bambi, as we all have," she said. "The hunters don't appear on screen there, but they're obviously the villains of the movie. You know, I'd seen Elmer Fudd cartoons, and to me hunting just seemed like the opposite of caring about animals or loving animals." She added that she thought many Americans' impression of hunting came from Disney.

Mark Bittman is a New York Times columnist and the author of VBC: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health...for Good, among many other bestsellers. He doesn't believe that Disney has had much of an impact in real terms. "I agree about the analysis of what Disney teaches us, but the impact of that has been nil," he pointed out. "It's not as if we go leave animals alone. We use them as if they were manufactured goods or machines. That's not the Disney image of animals. So I guess then the answer would be the Disney image of animals has had very little impact on our behaviour."

Joel Salatin, author of Folks, This Ain't Normal: A Farmer's Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World, is more critical. "Animals don't talk," he said, and the fact that Disney gives them anthropomorphic characteristics "has been very damaging to the understanding of this wonderful relational aspect that people have always had with domestic livestock."

Jon Mooallem, who wrote Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America, isn't as critical. "If there were no Disney, would childhood be as full of animals?" he asked, adding that although Disney "definitely warps the reality," he doesn't believe that's necessarily a bad thing. "I'm going to come down on the side of Disney."

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