From children’s books to horror films, animals are constantly ingrained into popular culture. Therefore, the question arises, why animals? Why do we like looking at animals? John Berger’s ‘Why Look at Animals?’ draws on many recognisable instances where this question may arise. When looking at an animal in the zoo, Berger states “ you are looking at something that has been rendered absolutely marginal…” meaning we are looking at not the animal, but its environment, its state of captivity. His idea constitutes that the scene depicted is not the true animal, but rather its ghost, of what was. Being present, but absent at the same time.
The constant conditioning of the depiction of animals may be rooted to the fact that animals are our (for the most of us) source of meat, our source of food. We like to – according to Berger – distance the reality of butchered meat, which has a direct implication that an animal has been killed ‘in the making of this product’. Distancing our perceptions from the product in the context of food is strongly evident in the packaging of meat, being sold in a controlled and air-conditioned environment, with limited signs of the processing of the raw product
Animal depiction in ‘wildlife’ documenting dates back to original film, where media giant, Disney set the foundations for entertainment. Initially, the genre was created due to its low cost of production, being utilised to ‘fill time’. Although seen as an efficient form of media, the genre gained international momentum due to its ability to be distributed globally because of its versatile format.
In saying that the wild life documentary may seem to capture a completely natural and neutral depiction, it also tends to humanise animals by drawing reference to the traditional ‘hero vs. villain’ narrative. The use of narrative in such media reflects an “edited-staged version of reality”, being heavily edited, removing all traces of human presence from the frame and depicting an action packed/focused scenario. Through a centralised focus on animals comes the issue of anthropomorphism, where we use animals to find evidence in human beliefs, turning animals into surrogate like vessels to envisage something grand.
The documenting of wild life not only poses negative implications for its animal subjects but can also utilize the same narrative techniques for positive purposes. Blackfish (2013) utilizes common narrative techniques, however with less bias towards humans. The film actually portrays humans more so as a villain, in a reality where Orca’s are held in captivity for performance entertainment purposes, in extremely poor conditions, in complete contradiction to their natural habits and habitat.
In the case of Tilikum, a famous Orca from Sea World in the US, the film truly shows the horrifying circumstances in which she was captured. Plucked from her dying mothers embrace, she was extremely scarred and tormented, demonstrating rebellious behaviour, causing the death of numerous workers at Sea World. In depicting this, the film utilizes dark undertones as well as dark overtones to illustrate the true sinister nature of this industry, igniting the Blackfish effect.