<p>Dan Wood wants to be a turtle. Why do we love pets? Why do we develop such strong familial relationships with dogs, cats, birds and even dead-eyed fish? Such relationships are especially puzzling when the animal serves no utilitarian end. When a beagle helps you hunt pheasant, or a dodo installs your naked ADSL, it’s practical […]</p>
Dan Wood wants to be a turtle.
Why do we love pets? Why do we develop such strong familial relationships with dogs, cats, birds and even dead-eyed fish? Such relationships are especially puzzling when the animal serves no utilitarian end. When a beagle helps you hunt pheasant, or a dodo installs your naked ADSL, it’s practical to keep them around. But why do people spend time and money caring for seemingly useless creatures.
Anna Krien supposes we regard pets as valuable insofar as they offer an extension of our personalities. That is to say we equate animals with fashion accessories. As in: j’adore the patina on your step-through! You should keep a French bulldog in the basket. Serious. If Wes Anderson could have a baby with himself, that’s how it would ride a bike. Totes magnifique!
True, but I’d take this point further. The act of pimping ourselves with Critterbling? has grown to a culture-wide obsession. This obsession is the by-product of an altogether visceral root, a consuming master emotion: envy. We envy animals. We keep dominion over animals to covet those qualities that, understandably, invoke our jealousy. After all, have you ever known a human as naturally carefree as a dog? As graceful and dignified as a cat? As kindly as a cow?
My hypothesis is (tacitly) supported by the central motif of K.A. Applegate’s Animorphs series, which—in a flagrant bastardisation of the Dewey Decimal System—is often miscategorised as fiction for ‘young adults’. I assume Applegate’s insipid husk of a publisher must have mistaken her magnum opus for tween sci-fi. The dork was too myopic to dig through the collection’s allegoric veneer and unearth the rich subtext of existential critique. Fool! Clearly, the superpowers granted to Applegate’s protagonists are a literary manifestation of that instantiated human condition: the desire to be the beast.
Oh, if only I were an animorph!
I’d be a precocious turtle. I’d glide through a rippled turquoise sea, humbling its creatures with breezy displays of my superior human intellect. And it would be superior. Indeed, I’d be the only sea creature with a grasp of liberal democratic principles. With that kind of intellectual advantage I’d be remiss not to share my knowledge for the pragmatic benefit of all. An amphibious Aung San Suu Kyi perhaps? Yes. Yes! I’d invert oceanic power relations, tackling speciesism one injustice at a time. As Earth’s first radicalised reptile I’d teach sea anemones of suffrage; octopodes of multiculturalism; sharks of peace. And all without written or verbal communication!
Hang on… explaining abstract nouns via gesticulation alone could be a problem. Don’t believe me? Try communicating The Unbearable Lightness of Being in a game of charades. Then try doing it with flippers instead of finger-enabled hands. Just how much could I communicate with flippers? Basic directions, I guess. Stop. Go. Left. Right. I could paint them orange and direct taxiing airplanes. Though how would I hold the paintbrush? HOW WOULD I BUY THE PAINT!? Do I really want to be an animorph?
One straightforward bonus is that a turtle needn’t suffer the indignity of receiving LinkedIn notifications announcing that his own mother has endorsed yet another of his “skills”—Photoshop, the Microsoft suite, and now… social media? Thanks, Mum, but it’s really not a skill (and I’m really not that good at it).