Animals on the Loose, in the News!

Curator's Note

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.


I agree entirely with your analysis of this "news chopper" footage. But, is the bear running away, or just going about her business unaware of the helicopter? I can't tell. The larger context of aerial news footage implies that what is being shown is illegal, dangerous or abnormal in some way and that any movement we see is an attempt at escape. But at times, she seems to stop and think about things for a split second before making her way along to the next property. And what is her destination I wonder? Bears must run through this neighbourhood all the time -- why was this one noteworthy?

Huh! That is a question I did not even consider--such is the power of the "news" and all its trappings, I went in accepting that the bear was running away or escaping, and thus somehow complicit in/aware of his or her "newsworthiness." The complete lack of people in the yards and streets also suggested to me a sort of lockdown, with neighbors being alerted to stay indoors (maybe that is my imagination as a person living in a dense urban setting, where a bear running loose would likely occasion a police state?). Very true though, part of what's so mesmerizing about this footage is the bear's loping unhurriedness at times. In that light, this video could be seen as a counter image to the much more depressing images and readings we've all unintentionally focused on this week; here, the contrast is between an animal who has adapted to an environment drastically changed by humans, and humans' (embodied by the news camera) anxious or even hysterical attempt to contain that adaptation as an aberration. As you read it, the bear--at least for now--remains untroubled by the human intervention.

The clip of the texting man's close call with a bear was meant to elicit a laugh at the guy's expense, but it made me feel only sympathy for the bear. The suburbs are encroaching on animals' habitats. The footage of exotic animals taken down by Zanesville police has not become less upsetting over time. The private individual who held the animals captive obviously made a series of poor decisions. Although Jack Hanna and the Columbus Zoo's CEO were appropriately somber in their interviews, in the broader sense this tragedy must have been a real boon for them—it almost made zoos look responsible by comparison.

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