Theorizing performances of the human -animal relationship
This dissertation investigates performative sporting and tourist events that have as their central focus human-animal teams. Case studies include Chicago-area dog shows, thoroughbred racing in Illinois and Kentucky, and the Orlando theme parks, SeaWorld and Disney's Animal Kingdom. Describing the interactions occurring between handlers and animals produces analyses of the scripted actions of the performers, the mise en scène of sites, the spectators' reactions, and the narratives shaping the events. The primary questions addressed include: Do animals perform? What do the interactions between humans and animals convey about their relationships? How do humans use anthropomorphism to shape perceptions of interspecies relationships? Are animals exercising agency in the sporting events and at the tourist sites? The patterns that emerge among case studies lead to a consideration of whether the nature of performance changes when "nature" is made to perform.
Animals' actions can constitute performance in certain situations and their modus operandi should be considered just as complex as that of human performers. Each of the events examined includes animals that are capable of pretending, but not capable of assuming another character; so characterizations get constructed by humans. In addition to noting what the animals actually do in performances, attention is paid to how the behavior is depicted by human co-performers and commentators. The core of this analysis deals with presentations of interspecies interactions as a paradox is identified in how humans construct animals to perform the very fictions of which they are believed to be incapable by performance theorists Richard Schechner, David Williams, and Jane C. Desmond.
0323: American studies