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The Role of "Celebrity Animals"

What can "celebrity animals" — like Dolly (the cloned sheep), Tilikum (the killer whale), or even the octopus who gained fame on the Netflix Original, My Octopus Teacher — tell us about "the human socially constructed natural world" as Nick Couldry calls it?

Animals (especially charismatic species with which we feel we can identify) can certainly ground environmental issues and cause us to at least feel something for environmental crises. However, there is often unequal distribution of attention that leads to inequality: mediagenic coverage that places certain animals in a positive spotlight allows us to care more for a gorilla or elephant than for an insect or fish, for example.

Media power is prevalent in the operation of animal fame. Given that human animals are the norm in studies of celebrity environmentalism, what difference does it make to consider the role of non-human animals? Consider, with reference to one non-human animal celebrity associated with environmentalism (like Dolly, Tilikum, or others that have come about in mainstream media).

  • I think this topic is great! Other examples that immediately come to mind are Harambe (the gorilla) and Cecil (the lion), both of whom came to be heralded as martyrs in the social media court of public opinion. I also wonder if less personalized/individualized examples might also fit into this paradigm, such as the nameless polar bears precariously photographed on shrinking ice sheets, or the much discussed declining honeybee populations (whose absence has been memorialized on boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios). How do these animals function as metonymical stand-ins for ecological destruction, and does the same logic of celebrity apply without the overtly anthropomorphizing gestures of assigning a proper name. On the subject of anthropomorphism, I wonder if there's also room in article to discuss the celebrity status of fictional animal protagonists, which seems to be most common of dogs (e.g. Call of the Wild, Old Yeller, Air Bud, Marley & Me, The Art of Racing in the Rain, etc.) and horses (e.g. Kholstomer, Black Beauty, and particularly War Horse -- on page, stage, and screen). Lastly, I'd be remiss if I didn't recommend the prospective author to read up on the recently scholarly literature in the booming humanities discipline of "Animal(ity) Studies," whose key contributors have been Carey Wolfe, Peter Singer, Jacques Derrida, Margo DeMello, and particularly the posthumanist theories of Donna Haraway. – ProtoCanon 1 year ago
  • Verrrry nice! I'm assuming you've seen a lot of animal documentaries, including Blackfish (Netflix). If you can find anything, you might also use the story of Keiko, the orca who played Willy in the Free Willy franchise, as a source. I had some other suggestions, but it kinda looks like you're covered. :) – Stephanie M. 1 year ago