ANIMAL BYTES: READING THE ANIMAL IN CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN CULTURE

In an age of shows like The Crocodile Hunter, Pets Gone Wild, and The Pet Psychic, it is obvious that our investment in the figure of the animal is alive as ever. Even city-dweller Friends had a cast that included a monkey, a chicken, and a duck. Just last year Mickey Mouse made the top of VH1's list of American icons. It seems as if the more urban America becomes, the more we cling to our wilderness and agricultural beginnings. In this course we will consider the role of the animal as a social construct. We will explore animal icons, representations, and signs and analyze ways in which the animal reveals our identity as Americans. Our animal texts will be wide ranging from corporate animals like the Target dog to music icons like Diamond Dog David Bowie, to Disney's cuddly menagerie of animated beasts to extinct animals in Jurassic Park and human animals in cinema. Some questions students will be asked to explore are: What does it mean to say tha animals are socially constructed? Who benefits from these social contructions? Can animals be seen as symbols of universality (without gender, race, or ethnic markers) that are crucial to American democracy? Or are animal icons used to naturalize social hierarchies? Do animal identifications create communities or draw lines between them? What influences our decision to identify with a particular animal? What do our animal identifications reveal about us? Students considering this course are strongly cautioned that animals will be viewed and analyzed as social texts. Issues of ethics and animal rights will not be addressed in this class and will be considered inappropriate in relation to our objective academic discourse.