Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sheep-dogs, Sheep-pigs, and Sheep

Random, low-budget, quasi-humans...


  1. I found it interesting that in both the book The Companion Species Manifesto and the film Babe, animals are divided according to their human-denoted use or job; animals are even divided within species along these lines. For example, Haraway makes a distinction between her Great Pyr and her Border Collie, the former being a traditional herd-protecting animal (though I wasn't sure if her dog is used for this, even occasionally), the latter used for sheep herding, but byHaraway for agility competitions. In Babe, Ferdinand the duck needs to crow like a rooster in order to show his usefullness to people - his life is literally on the line. Babe himself is confused, because he feels as though he belongs with the dogs (and thereby has a job to do), when in reality he is a pig (and so has no job, except to get fat and get eaten). In both cases, and as we've seen over and over again in this course, humans divide animals in to groups according to use and function - which are, of course, defined on human terms. Yet animals can even be divided within species along similar lines - the male dog in Babe becomes useless for herding, though is still valued for breeding. I also began to wonder - why do humans focus so much on an animal's job, yet don't consider being raised for food a job? I think this relates to the issue of animal intelligence - dogs are intelligent, therefore they can do a job for us humans, therefore they are valued by humans in a particular way. Chickens are not intelligent (I would use the example of pigs, but they're really smart), therefore they cannot perform a job for humans, therefore they are valued only as human sustenance. This is all somewhat convoluted and overlapping, but I think that we can see examples of this way of thinking in both the Haraway book and the film Babe. And, in the end, Babe is only saved from slaughter because he can show his utility to humans, though to do this he must act in a way that is uncharacteristic of his species - thereby increasing his value to humans even moreso.

  2. I was really excited to watch Babe again, especially after reading Erica Fudge's thoughts on it in Animal. Seeing it as an older viewer and as a person in this class, I noticed a lot of things that had not spoken to me as a child. Haraway explains that the companion animal is based on extremes; of joy and enjoyment and of cruelty. This is often shown thru the various characters of Babe and the humans involved. Haraway later explains that her book is "about the implosion of nature and culture...joint lives of dogs and people, who are bonded in significant otherness." Her book describes the way that we shaped dogs from their wild ancestors into beings of our own needs; even though it goes against nature. Babe tells the story of a pig shaped into a companion, and even into a dog designated role. I noticed that the animals repeat the notion that "the way things are are the way things are" meaning that nature is not to be fought. At the same time, this is often the main focus of the human race, and of Mr. Hoggitt. Haraway's book also explains the tradition roles of the dog; we see the traditional role of each animal in Babe clearly defined thru the very voice of the animals. The way in which humans define animals create definite boundaries in which they rarely challenge; save for Babe. Even so, this challenge greatly upsets both the other animals and other humans in the movie. Our decisions as humans significantly shape the roles of all animals that cross our paths and is proven to be difficult to get past when shaken.

  3. Both Haraway’s book and the film: Babe, highlight the problem that animals are viewed and judged based on their relation and helpfulness to humans; an idea which has become one of the central themes in this class. Both the film and the book take up the issue of companionism, showing a few ways in which the resulting hierarchical relationships between humans and non-humans are formed and function.
    In the end Haraway’s discussion of the breeding of dogs and the film Babe’s discussion of the purpose of certain animals, tends to highlight animals and their utilitarian use to humans. In the film, Babe is trained by the farmer to become an animal that ‘serves a purpose.’ -As the cat points out, all animals that don’t serve a purpose get eaten. This further strengthens the idea that, to humans, companions must serve some sort of utilitarian purpose.

  4. Babe and The Companion Species Manifesto are both concerned with the humans relationship with the other, or animals. Haraway's book discusses the use of dogs as a sort of biotechnology; dogs are at the use of the humans. The animal characters in Babe can also be seen as a form of biotechnology; humans take what is natural and form it into something to be used. These animals serve as instruments to benefit people; however, Haraway also notes that both human and animal must"take the initiative and to respond obediently to the other"..."the task is to become coherent enough in an incoherent world to engage in a joint dance of being". In Babe and The Companion Species Manifesto show the dynamics of the working relationship between the humans and animals.

  5. I have (also) watched Babe as a child but didn’t realize how indicative it was to our relationships with animals. After everything I’ve learned in this class so far, it’s actually incredibly intense and influential. In the film, the farm animals are defined in terms of their utilization and performance to the farmer. In the film (unfortunately!!) the cat is depicted as the stereotypical villain who reveals to Babe that every animal exists to serve a distinct purpose. For example, the cat provides affection, the cow provides milk and meat, and the sheep provides wool. (The farmer seems uneasy about winning Babe, which is kind of odd, since there aren’t any other pigs living on the farm.) Nevertheless, the farmer’s feelings towards Babe directly correlate to his utilization. Once Babe proves himself as a sheepherder and he can possibly compete in a sheep-herding competition, he is respected. But once he is suspected of killing a sheep, he becomes a useless, kill-worthy pig. The importance of the animals’ productiveness is also represented in the film when Babe and the duck Ferdinand prove their inability to be “effective” farm animals by causing havoc in the farmer’s home. As soon as Babe and Ferdinand become an inconvenience, the farmer quickly shuns them. The idea of defining animal to human relationships in terms of utilization or efficacy is a common theme throughout this course. It also refers to using anthropomorphism as a means to understand animals’ existence. The film poses many thought-provoking questions: If a pig is capable of herding sheep, what other things are animals capable of? And was the farmer’s wife more sympathetic to the animals than her husband?

    In Haraway’s “The Companion Species Manifesto,” she mentions Vicki Hearne’s concept of “animal happiness,” (defined as an animal’s ability to accomplish a level of training and communication with its’ trainer.) Haraway claims not “method” but “communication” is what matters between dogs and their trainers, and that “respect is the name of the game” (Haraway, 49). This is exactly what Babe seems to aspire for. What is particularly interesting is that the dogs seem to have established some type of communication with the farmer, a type of communication that seemed impossible for Babe to establish, (maybe because of the history of sheep herding dogs?) Hearne’s theory is clearly illustrated through Rex’s character, the male sheep-herding dog that after failing his master as a successful sheep-herder becomes extremely combative and angry.

    “On Sympathy: With Other Creatures,” written by Ian Hacking, he claims the way to “expand our moral circles” is to feel sympathy with animals. He also acknowledges that the only way he feels the need to help “someone” originates from the feeling that they have interests or rights (Hacking, 689). He admits the reason he cares for “someone” is because he respects him or her enough to help them (689). I agree with Hacking that there is a certain relation humans feel to animals in terms of closeness in appearance or “cuteness.” (It’s obvious that many more people consider kittens to be “cuter” than, say, cockroaches.) Hacking says, “What is lacking is that I cannot see the souls of ants or spiders because I cannot much resonate with their bodies. At most, I can reason by analogy and draw trepid inferences, attributing pain to ants, or fear and loathing to spiders” (712). I believe we define “acceptable” or “cute” animals in terms of their usefulness or relativity to the human body; I have to admit I also do the same. I would much rather pet a kitten than a flying water bug. And unfortunately, although I believe mice are incredibly cute, once they shit all over my counter and chew through all my food, I’m left with very few choices.

  6. Everyone's been pointing out how animal's are judged and valued in regard to how and why they are used by humans. It's understandable that the animals we develop intimate/domestic/personal relationships are of a higher "value" in other words we may be more likely to treat them with kindness and love and be inclined to give them rights of sorts. However the animals that truly serve us, those that are put to work or used for food and help us survive in comfort and ease are the ones that we would prefer to ignore and treat "like animals." I'm surpised the phrase "treat like an animal" hasn't come up class yet. If I said, "he's treating me like an animal" that would be interpreted as though I were being treated badly by someone and that connotation would have to do with animals of a certain kind, those that we do not "value" in a domestic way, probably referencing those types of animals whose value are actually more valuable to us as a species. Although, I could say someone was treating me like a dog and that wouldn't be positive either and saying someone was treating me like a "pet" might be understood as a person acting as a beneficiary who is both relatively affectionate and overbearing, one who decides my rights for me instead of allotting me independent agency. I couldn't help to keep thinking that the Hogget farm was a very benevolent farm, I felt they were represented an ideal husbandry situation. Ideally, if a family run farmer were to say "you're treating me like an animal" that would be a compliment regarding mutual respect, care taking, and benefits.

  7. In both Babe and The Companion Manifesto, the message to appreciate animals more than mere human entertainment prevails. Animals do not exist for us to simply toy with. It reminds me of the movie Fantatastic Planet. A movie in which "aliens" called Traags are keepers of human beings known by the word Oms. They were kept as pets and toys only to be used for amusement as long as they were alive. Although they did not eat the humans, they kept them as subspecies companions as humans do to animals. It was not until the Oms made it clear that they are equal in intellectual capacity that the Traags left them to their own devices. In a sense, this can be seen in Babe when the farmer does not kill him because he sees that his intellectual capacity is greater than any pig. However, it goes beyond and back to his own selfishness because he is still using babe for his own devices. Unfortunately, even though we measure animals by their usage, in a sense people do it to eachother. In social concepts, many people only stay in touch with those they find "useful." This fulfillment ranging from companionship to networking to the ability to talk to that cute somebody down the hall.
    In the video posted I feel as though the crystal represents what humans actually do: consume and dispose. Utilize until conquered. The world was once peaceful until it became filled with alterior motives.

  8. The literature and film from this week’s class both reminded me of moments from my past – reading Harraway’s Cyborg Manifesto freshman year, finding myself confused in the process, and watching Babe in elementary school, which left me dumbfounded in the present.
    After watching what we have seen of Babe in class, I have come to the conclusion that I have progressively became more and more of a sap since the second grade. The anthropomorphized farm animals really got to me.

    The film illustrates societal roles of animals that transcend to issues of race, class, gender, as well as species. Self-regulation and the propagation of roles designated by one’s status is illustrated in the film by the animals who try to put Babe in his place, and show him that there is nothing in life but the expected path (purpose) laid forth for him - the path of a pig. I cannot recall the ending of the film, but from what we have seen there has been a strong sentiment that one cannot dissent from their “natural” purpose. As we have seen in the film, individual purpose is engrained into the animals’ heads since birth on the farm, much like the educational and parental institutions humans experience at a young age. Is purpose real, or is it learned lived fiction? I guess we’ll find out tomorrow when we see how Babe does at the sheepherding competition…

    This idea relates to Donna Harraway’s views on how the domestic animal is the product of human progress and civilization, they are our tools, alienated tools implanted with a new mentality to serve, obey, and complete the purpose that is expected of them.