Stuffed

This encounter with the weird took place in an unexpected location – my hometown. It was unexpected, because childhood is largely when certain things about the world are normalized for us. Therefore, one would expect the place where I spent these formative years to be the epicenter of “right”, with everything in it tinted with memories of simpler, less complicated times. However, “home” itself is a strange concept. The idea of being “from” somewhere is based largely around older, antiquated concepts of inclusion and otherness. After all, a town is just part of county, which is part of a state, which is part of a country, which is part of the world. If I can say that I am from Ocoee, FL, can I not also say that I am from the hospital where I was born. I certainly could, but many would say that this is a meaningless distinction. If drawing this boundary is senseless, then an argument could be made that all such distinctions are illogical. Greta Gaard would certainly agree with this theory. She points out that western culture has traditionally relied on “value dualisms”, which are ideologies that separate the world into opposing sides, wherein both sides never commingle, and where one side is viewed as superior (Gard 115-116). Furthermore, she claims that the superior side relies on the oppressed side to manifest its own identity through processes such as backgrounding and incorporation (Gard 116). When people draw distinctions between where they are from, and where other people are from, they are usually trying to establish a value hierarchy that places their background above that of others. They create a line between “us” and “them”, so that they can feel more connected to the group they are a part of while also elevating it. Again, this is strange when one considers that we are from the same Earth.

Since we are all from the same Earth, it is not surprising that weirdness can be found anywhere, especially in my hometown. In this particular instance, I came across 20170429_170004something that I might not have considered weird before taking “Weird(ing) Nature”, due to my previous lack of concern with the killing of animals. It was a taxidermy shop located in the center of my town. In it were the stuffed skins of animals which were killed presumably for sport. Some of the specimens included antelopes, deer, a duck, and a bobcat.  These were once living creatures whose bodies were taken as trophies, and this struck me as weird for several reasons. One relates again to the work of Gaard, who claims that one of the main dualisms that western culture propagates is between humanity and nature (116). We like to see ourselves as superior and better than non-human animals because we assess them as lacking some fundamental characteristics that we possess, such as reason or language. Regardless of the fact that we have no definitive proof that they do not possess these traits, the fact that these traits are the ones by which we judge superiority is both arbitrary and biased. If, for instance, we judged superiority by one’s possession of claws, humans may not measure up so well. It is for that reason that most people do not do so, and instead pick categories that unfairly give the upper hand to humans, while conveniently robbing all other animals of ethical consideration. The hunters and the taxidermist have worked together to take creatures of moral standing that should be equal to that of humans, kill them, and then turn their bodies into decorations. If someone did this to a human, it would not only be weird, it would be completely illegal. Therefore, it is weird that such a practice can be prominently displayed in the heart of a town.

It is also weird when one considers the work of Deborah Bird Rose, who has written much about death narratives, which are the stories we tell about the lives and deaths of creatures, but which are also the gifts that an individual gives to others through the act of dying (64). For instance, when an animal dies, its body breaks down20170429_165946
and returns nutrients to the Earth, allowing others to live. The act of taxidermy goes against this death narrative, at least partially. When the skin of the animal is taken and stuffed, chemicals are added to it which prevent it from decomposing and returning to the environment. According to Rose, this prevents the death of these animals from being “twisted back into life”, making their deaths meaningless (64-65). In fact, it could actually be said that it twists it into more death, because other humans may see the “trophies” and think to themselves, ‘I would like to have a deer head to hang in my home… I should go out and kill one.’ What is strange is the fact that the hunters and taxidermist not only kill, bu that they kill and then use a part of the animals for nothing more than frivolous decoration. For this reason, as well as the other two previously discussed, this was a weird encounter.

 

Works Cited

Gaard, Greta. “Toward a Queer Ecofeminism .” Hypatia 12.1 (1997): 114-37. Print.

Rose, Deborah Bird. “Judas Work: Four Modes of Sorrow.” Environmental Philosophy 5.2 (2008): 51-66. Print.

 

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