Animal Values: Are you a fan of Bambi or Br’er Rabbit?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Animal Values

Americans are talking about pets with this week’s release of Dr. Seuss’s new What Pet Should I Get? At OurValues, we’re publishing five columns that you can share with friends to dig deeper into the many important values concerning the animals we bring into our homes.

In Part 1, we looked at changing values in pet adoption. Today through Friday, we will focus on eight animals that, at various times, were world famous for the values they embody. We will be drawing on thoughts from two leading advocates of animal welfare with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Today, we’re starting with two beloved—and controversial—animals: Bambi and Bre’er Rabbit.

Frontier Town and Brer Rabbit (1)

One of the few places Disney still features Br’er Rabbit is in Orlando’s Frontierland. Visitors pass this colorful status of Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear searching everywhere for their prey. They don’t seem to notice that clever Br’er Rabbit has simply hitched a ride on the big bear’s club.

BAMBI

You probably know the little deer from the Walt Disney movie, rather than the original novel by Felix Salten. However, readers who discover Salten’s book of stories often have deep emotional responses to the way Salten describes life in the woods. Author Benjamin Pratt wrote about the joy of discovering Salten’s book, this spring.

Reasa Currier, an interfaith activist with HSUS (profiled this week in ReadTheSpirit magazine) is a fan of the Bambi movie. “The film shows that animals have relationships with one another and mothers care for their children in the same way humans care for our children,” she says.

“That’s one important element of Bambi’s story—seeing the family bonds and affection among animals,” says Bernard Unti, HSUS’s Senior Policy Advisor and expert on worldwide initiatives for animal welfare. “Another element is that the Bambi movie has been a highly transformative story in shaping people’s sensibilities about wild animals. … Many hunters regard Bambi as perhaps having had more impact in bringing people to question the ethics of hunting as just about any phenomenon in the past 75 years.”

How about you? Or your friends and family? What role has Bambi played in your lives? Please share this column with them.

BR’ER RABBIT

The “Uncle Remus” stories of white Southern journalist Joel Chandler Harris now are widely regarded as a cynical racist’s theft of African-American folklore. Even after the Civil War, Harris remained an outspoken apologist for slavery, arguing that it had been a good and humane system. Alice Walker and many other black writers have publicly condemned Harris for making money off their heritage even as he defended plantation owners. White journalists have joined them. H.L. Mencken regarded Harris as a scoundrel with little talent for anything other than literary thievery. The Song of the South, a 1946 animated movie about Uncle Remus, is the one movie that Disney refuses to re-release.

So, no question: Br’er Rabbit hops along with tons of baggage.

“That’s why it surprised me to find a whole section on Br’er Rabbit in Malcolm Gladwell’s new book David and Goliath,” said Reasa Currier.

Gladwell cites evidence from folklore researchers and writes at one point:

At the center of many of the world’s oppressed cultures stands the figure of the “trickster hero.” In legend and song, he appears in the form of a seemingly innocuous animal that triumphs over others much larger than himself through cunning and guile. In the West Indies, slaves brought with them from Africa tales of a devious spider named Anansi. Among American slaves, the trickster was often the short-tailed Br’er Rabbit.

Joel Chandler Harris’s theft of stories and Disney’s tone-deaf animated movie aside—the trickster rabbit is a powerful figure in the folklore of enslaved African-Americans—and their descendants.

How about you? Or your friends and family? What role has Br’er Rabbit played in your lives?

TALK WITH FRIENDS …

There’s so much to think about, this week, as millions of people are talk about pets! Come back through Friday, this week, for more OurValues columns about famous animals from around the world.

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