Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Open Season: Boog the soldier, Boog the firstborn son

So I saw this animated flick, Open Season, and it was pretty enjoyable... late at night, lightweight after a long work day, I think Martin Lawrence as the voice of a codependent bear was pretty much what I needed. Unfortunately, I got around to doing that thing I do, where I think about the movie and the implicit themes and come up with a few pages of garbage to post on my blog. This time I managed to wait a few weeks before posting, but ultimately I just can't help myself, you know?

Here's a little warning... this isn't written in the feel-good spirit of the movie. It ends up with a little more liberal cynicism than I'm comfortable with. Still, it's what I started writing, and you get to see where I ended up.

Open Season paints a pretty idyllic world for these animals, not only in the kindness they're shown, but also in the respect. I'm talking here about the two primary human-animal relationships that shaped the movie... Boog the Bear and his handler, Giselle, and Boog the Bear and his foe, Shaw.

First, let's talk about Boog and Shaw. Shaw is the ruthless, brainless hunter of the film, sort of like Gaston vis a vis North Dakota. In the course of the film, as the animals start to team up and rally their latent super-intelligence against the hunters, Shaw gets markedly militant and paranoid about them, treating the forest as if it's a battleground where he's the general. The thing is, that's not what really happens with hunters. The game isn't an enemy, it's not an equal, and hunting has NOTHING to do with combat or confrontation. Hunting is more like a target practice scavenger hunt, where each guy is hunting for the biggest moving object to shoot, photograph, and strap to a hood.

If Open Season is going to compare hunting to a war, they're not acknowledging some essential characteristics... your army is entirely made up of snipers, their army doesn't have guns, and only one side is aware that the fray has been joined. That's why I say this film is "idyllic in terms of respect"... because the respect portrayed is the glorious kind that you feel in war, and hunting isn't like that. It's more like... I don't know, shopping, maybe. Yeah, shopping for the biggest dear, and snatching it out of the case before anybody else does. I bet the hunters among us will LOVE that shopping analogy.

So if "hunter as soldier of the forest" is a bit of an exaggeration, what do we say about Giselle's role? She's clearly taking on the role of the mother, encouraging her child's interests, trying to nurture him into adulthood, and communicating with him about when he wants a snack. Again, as much as I hate to say it, this is a bit of an exaggeration. We don't treat animals like furry little people. We don't ask them when they'd want to eat (I don't want to picture what would happen if I gave my dog control over his eating habits). We don't moralize to them or fret about their upbringing. There's always an exchange going on that isn't going on with kids... I feed you and pet you as long as you keep me company and amuse me. He's a dumb dog. Doesn't even sit. But isn't he fucking cute?

So an analogy: "hunting : war :: pet-keeping : motherhood." Relationships of submission and endearment hyperbolized into relationships of confrontation and love.

So when we watch Open Season, are we seeing the world as animals would have it be, if they could talk to us and tell us how they'd like to be treated? "If you're going to shoot me, do it face to face!" says the buck. "Don't just pet me, put some stock in my emotional well-being," says Spot.

Or maybe these are the things we tell ourselves to make our alienation from the non-human world more palatable. Now that we've commodified the outdoors, all we can do is pretend we're approaching it like an enemy. Now that we've domesticated the animals we live with, the only way to bring them closer is by calling them our children, as if it's us giving them the world, and not the other way around.

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