Somewhere back in 2003, in my mutual interview with Marianne Shaneen, I addressed my predilection for the generally-taboo-in-modernism pathetic fallacy. I wrote:
I go on to list a number of examples compiled from science textbooks by an anti-pathetic fallacy science teacher, and characterize the list as a kind of insta-“sought poem.”
Pathetic fallacies are taboo in modernism because they hearken back to primitive mind. If you identify too much with the world and with nature you cannot face it empirically. Pathetic fallacies are a kind of magical thinking (which I tend to oppose in principle, except that I like pathetic fallacies as literary devices, largely because they are taboo). The intellectual problem, I guess, is the way in which pathetic fallacies overlap with anthropomorphism, when animals and objects, instead of just being conceived of as, or fantasized as, emotive or thinking subjects, are attributed specifically with HUMAN emotions, thoughts, values.
I bring this up because last night Gary and I were watching a DVD of an episode of nature focusing on “ugly” animals, including starnose moles, naked mole rats (which, we were interested to learn, are neither moles nor rats), warthogs, monkeys and male sea lions with huge probosces, etc. I had rented it in a search for sensational imagery to use in collage movies.
I found the video disturbing: not for its images, which I really liked, but for the language that infected it. I guess that the audience for such shows is largely children, right? Well, nowhere in the video did the narrator bring up the notion that beauty and ugliness are not universal principles, and especially may not travel across species lines. Instead, the whole thing was rife with a shallow judgmentalism regarding the appearance to (some) humans of these various creatures, and was an exercise in using (inexact) synonyms for ugly: abhorrent, off-putting, disgusting, hideous, etc. Now, I don’t expect a nature show to present all the nuances of a philosophy of aesthetics, but all the same it’s hard for me to believe that the writers couldn’t at least give a NOD to acknowledging the ridiculous and biased anthropomorphism they were perpetuating. This was an opportunity to teach that instead was a shallow kind of anthro-supremacist inculcation: lousy pedagogy.
I’m still steamed up about that, but do intend to use some of the images in my next movie. The adjutant storks! The vultures! And those gorgeous proboscis monkeys! (OK, that’s a value judgment, too, but at least it’s a positive one.)