Mice & Men

17 Jun

Man rules the animal kingdom, not because we are the strongest, most beautiful or even most useful, but because we can successfully manage others. Those we can most easily conquer and manipulate we love and adore. Those that will not fall victim to our plans, we either destroy or place on display. Exhibit A: man’s best friend. It’s a creature that could easily rip us to shreds. Yet we condition dogs to be our protectors, our loyal friends and eagerly trade treats and rubs on the back for their freedom.

Because it is we who charts, categorizes and divvies society into a lump sum of labels, we inevitably decide each inhabitant’s fate.

The following words from Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” made me think:
“Consider for a second the world a rat lives in. It’s a hostile world, indeed. If a rat were to scamper through your front door right now, would you greet it with hostility? Has a rat ever done anything to you to create this animosity you feel toward them? I propose to you any disease a rat could spread, a squirrel could easily carry. Yet I assume you don’t share the same animosity with squirrels that you do with rats, do you? Yet, they’re both rodents, are they not? And except for the tail, they even rather look alike don’t they? You don’t like them. You don’t really know why you don’t like them. All you know is you find them repulsive.”
The biggest difference is squirrels don’t typically have the gall to invade castles and are thus perceived to be less threatening. They are allowed their nuts. The analogy implies the same of humans deemed pests by the powers that be.

And he with the pen, gun or scalpel, in this case, has the power.

I think all of mankind’s hang ups on race, gender and sexual orientation can be summed up by a glance at the animal kingdom, a world governed by claws and fangs, roars and growls, where every living thing can be charted into a hierarchy of good and bad, weak and strong, useful and useless. Perception plays just as large a role as fact in how creatures are labeled. Which animals are cute? Which are hideous? And who decides?
I often wondered how dark skin first became synonymous with inferiority. Who decided higher counts of melanin was a bad thing? Someone with a fancy title, chart, pen and lab coat without it, no doubt.
Consider this: Some of Disney’s best loved films challenge the animal kingdom’s deepest convictions. Ratatouille features a cooking rat for goodness sake. Dumbo, a flying elephant. And the upcoming release, Turbo, showcases a racing snail. For a pair of hours and a small fee, the screen allows science’s laws to implode and anything is possible. But after the credits roll and the theater lights up, we return to our safe world, where rats are filthy, elephants are scary and snails are slow.

Imagine that.

While visiting England, I wandered into a bookstore in search of something for my aunt. She specifically requested a novel by a Black Brit. I submitted this odd request to a girl working nearby. She didn’t raise an eyebrow and simply handed me Blackman’s (ironic namesake) “Noughts and Crosses,” a book that does what Disney and that episode of Twilight did on screen in print: It asks what if the rules were swapped and freaking blew my mind.

I recommend this read to anyone who questions why racism, sexism or homophobia yet exists. When the very fabric of society is stitched with labels defining each and every organism’s proper place, organizing all of the subsets of humanity becomes just another part of the food chain management.


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