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Animals on the Loose, in the News!

by Ethan Tussey

by Sarah O'Brien for IN MEDIA RES

If one were to create a taxonomy of the Internet’s vast stock of animal images, videos documenting animals gone rogue would surely emerge as an uncannily close cousin of the dominant species of lolcats and their hyper-domesticated kin. This species or genre includes more and less faithful footage of wildlife traipsing through urban streets and suburban backyards; exotic animals loosed or escaped from zoos; birds descending on humans; and other instances of wild animals gone, well, wild.

These videos present the obverse image of cute cat macros: where lolcats and their ilk express a jesting anthropomorphism that entertains the possibility that animals are like humans (or adroit thieves of human identities, e.g. the “I’m in ur…” meme), videos of animals on the loose bespeak a fascination with the potential breakdown of the physical boundaries separating humans and animals.

The two genres also articulate complementary views of the creeping forces of captivity. The seemingly endless proliferation of lolcats demonstrates that humans are as much captive to cats (or their images) as cats are to humans. Videos of escaped animals present a bleaker vision of captivity.

As with cell-phone footage of natural disasters and acts of violence, the existence of these videos attests to the survival of the filmmaker; more to the point, they index the past or future recapture of the animals—an apprehension that all too often entails shooting to kill them. Longstanding sympathies between the camera and gun are thus reframed through the technologies of cell-phones, surveillance cameras, and airborne film crews.

While the AP footage posted here does not point to such a violent conclusion, it documents the hemming in of animals in a way that is representative of the genre’s preoccupation with the ever-multiplying constraints on contemporary life. The bear moves from one enclosure to the next, its only refuge a concrete storm drain. The fenced yards and streets are eerily devoid of humans, unless you count the roving, omniscient eye of the unidentified camera operator.

In much the same way that lolcats invite delight at cats’ capacity to ventriloquize human sentiments, the immediate response elicited by the video is amazement at the bear’s prowess at scaling human-built edifices. This amusement is undercut, however, by a growing sense that these images document the increasingly totalizing entrapment of both human and nonhuman animals.

Bear On the Loose

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News footage of a bear

from Bear Runs Loose Through Neighborhood (2009)
Creator: AP
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey