Anthropomorphism: the attribution of human characteristics or behavior to a god, animal, or object.
We humans have an innate tendency to project human traits on animals to make them seem friendlier, more relatable and well, more human. In contrast, we often use animals to point out the worst traits in our peers. Call someone a snake, a weasel, a pig or an ass and we know he’s no good but, thanks to anthropomorphism, snowmen dance, fish sing and people get it into their heads that polar bears need hugs.
Some pictures of monkeys this past week reminded me that it used to be possible to buy monkeys through the mail and the advertisements emphasized how much the monkeys were just like us. Sometimes all it took was to give the monkey a lollipop, like this ad in Field & Stream’s June, 1963 issue.
Another monkey dealer advertising in that same issue took a different approach, using a drawing instead of a photograph. This could have been a cost-cutting measure, allowing him to sell his monkeys for three dollars less. We can only assume the instructions included how to get a ruffled collar over a squirrel monkey’s head.
For those who had a hard time relating to lightning fast primates with dagger-like canine teeth wearing ruffled collars, Aqua-Land Pet offered up something a little different.
Lightning-fast primates with dagger-like teeth carrying tiny rifles. How cute! Aqua-Land Pet also offered baby alligators as an amusing hobby for children. Apparently, alligators were also helpful and friendly.
A smile goes a long way in making an animal seem human. Even bunnies and turtles could happily endorse motor oil in 1963.
A smile is one thing, but extreme anthropomorphism involves more than a little emotion. How about a hat?
I wonder how he got that reminder ribbon on his trunk, seeing that he had no fingers, but he’s driving a car so who am I to quibble? It may be a good thing he didn’t have fingers or he would have been able to flip to Field & Stream’s advertising section to see ads like these:
No need for guides or skill in Ontario, according to an ad in the April, 1948, issue of Outdoorsman Magazine:
But what did the fish in 1957 do when not lining up for the chance to be caught and jump for joy?
The makers of Coral King lines admitted that fish can’t really talk but let the poker playing stand. The fish in an ad for Airex tackle that same year would never have stooped to such a thing. He was much too sophisticated, although he did seem to enjoy the occasional cigar.
Out in Wyoming, the fish didn’t play poker or wear top hats and the style of the anglers was decidedly casual.
Horses in waders,elephants in cars, fish in tuxedos and playing cards; anthropomorphism makes animals seem human. If only we could do the same for more people.