When I was little, maybe five or six, I got the idea to slip my spaniel’s feet into freezer bags and watch her slide around on the kitchen floor.
Sure, this episode could have sparked in me a yen for further torturing of animals, of arson, of serial killing. I chose academia. But I was thinking about this – of some of the subtler forms of animal cruelty – while reading the Daily Mail’s story about an apparent hounds-in-hosiery trend.
A “thing” supposedly sweeping China, involves squeezing dogs into stockings and then taking photographs of them. I’m always sceptical about just how “widespread” such crazes are, but as a dog-lover, as a hosiery-lover, this story unquestionably piqued my interest.
Without doubt, there is the option of simply seeing – and quickly dismissing - this story as an extension of putting any kind of clothing on a dog: dogs don’t need a Burberry coat, for example, but putting one on and taking a photo could be read as akin to dressing up and showing off children; bedazzling them in the hope of reaping coos of adoration.
Equally easily, the story could be read as similar to any Internet photo craze: just like planking, just like owling, we could read these doggy dress-up snaps as simply a five-second fame grab, combining the cuteness of puppies and the oddity of stocking thing.
Personally, I think it’s a bit more complicated.
Anthropomorphism involves attributing animals with human-like qualities. Presuming, for example, that our animals are depressed or in love or that they care whether their fur is fluffy, are examples of this. Sexiness – particularly as it pertains to apparel, to posing – is a human quality. To dress a dog up in some of the trappings associated with female sexuality - female sexiness – is a clear example of such anthropomorphism.
This idea of sexualising animals is, of course, nothing new. In my book Part-Time Perverts I discussed a variety of pop culture examples where this sexy animal idea has been served up as entertainment: a personal favourite scenes comes from The Simpsons when Homer, dressed as a panda, exited an enclosure claiming to reek of “panda lovin’”.
Of course, it’s a very different thing to watch and laugh at a TV show that subtly implies bestiality, than to actively slip your own dog into a pair of stockings. And then take a photograph.
In biologist Midas Dekkers’s book Dearest Pet (1992), he wrote:
“On the farm, in the brothel, or simply at home in front of the fire, but mainly in our heads… it is no surprise to find art and culture permeated with physical love for animals.”
He draws on examples from art and literature to further his case.
Dekker’s book isn’t so much advocating bestiality as it is highlighting that this issue – human love of animals, particularly domestic animals – is hugely complicated.
If you put an animal you live with – who you love, who you consider a family member and who might even sleep on your bed - into a pair of stockings, what is this saying about you?
Is it saying that you think of your dog as sexual?
Is it saying you have the capacity to think of your dog as sexy?
Is this situation any different than dressing children up in similar attire and entering them in pageants?
In both cases I would argue that the agendas are indeed sexual.
Not sexual in the simplistic “I want to have sex with you” sense – for most people, such a renegade thought would be far too egregious for consideration - but sexual in the broad sense of generalised titillation stemming from taboo, from that which we shouldn’t find arousing.
Most people would never embark on intercourse with animals but as with any number of taboos, getting close to the action – the frisson of it all without the mess and illegality – is appealing. Nudging the forbidden – taking photos - is a substitute – or, as Freud would deem it, a kind of sublimation – whereby energies gets channelled into acts far less destructive.
Not for a moment do I contend that putting a dog into a pair of stockings is embarking on a journey that will end in animal sex, law-breaking and tears. I do however, think it would be amiss to think that bestockinged animals isn’t somewhat sexual and reflective of that very broad palate of human sexual interests.