Saturday, May 24, 2014

Is the Giant Pangolin Evidence of Evolutionary Convergence in Cartoon Villains?

We are all aware of the controversies around the issue of whether or not evolution should be taught in our public schools and/or whether this "theory" should be augmented with other theories that may explain the world we see around us.  One theory in particular, the so-called "intelligent design" theory calls upon a particular hypothetical cosmic energy source that although invisible has caused the design of all the millions of existing types of creatures, not to mention the billions that no longer exist.  

I have recently come across a strange relationship between one of these existing creatures, the Giant Pangolin of central Africa, and a certain classic cartoon character archetype: the weasel. This relationship has the potential to break open the entire discussion of evolution vs intelligent design and extend it to the role that this potential cosmic energy source has had in the creation of genres of the cinema.   I think you will see from the discussion below that "intelligent design" may very well need to be added to the "auteur theory" in our film schools, except perhaps instead of "intelligent" this type of cosmic design might more properly be called "whimsical".  Yes, I propose that it is "whimsical design" that may need to be added to the discussion of theory in our centers of film education.

I was having a discussion with Professor Ken Perlin of NYU about how one properly categorizes an animal as a biped (which most humans are, at least after the age of about two except when very drunk) versus other animals with or without backbones that have legs, flippers and wings.   It turns out that this issue is more subtle than it might at first appear with criteria based on such things as how often and for what purpose a creature is believed to walk, hop, shuffle or otherwise proceed on two legs.   For example, birds on the ground stand and ambulate on two legs, but they can be said to more properly hop than walk.   Are they then bipeds?  

In researching this topic, I came across a type of animal I had never even heard of before, let alone had ever seen: the giant spiny anteater of central Africa, aka the Giant Pangolin.   This improbable creature is known to spend quite a bit of time walking on its two hind legs as it proceeds to terrorize the locals of Africa with its large size (over a meter) and its amazing and intimidating profile as it goes about its business decimating unlucky ant colonies in its ravenous path.

You dont see one of these every day in America, thank goodness.

Although the Giant Pangolin were entirely new to me, yet they seemed strangely familiar somehow.   It took me over a day to realize where I had seen something like this before.  The Pangolin reminded me of an important type of villain in the classic cartoon, the Weasel.    Most prominently known as the evil sidekicks in Roger Rabbit (1988), they have been around cartoons for many years before that.

Here is an example from 1955 called Poop Goes the Weasel.

Is this resemblance an accident?   An example of evolutionary convergence?  Or is it something else, something more important, proof of a divine and loving God who causes bizarre semi-bipeds in Central Africa to be styled after cartoon archetypes in a medium barely a hundred years old?   We may never know the answer to this burning question but it seems to me that this issue needs to be fairly and impartially presented to students in our public film institutions in order to give a balanced account of what we know about where our character archetypes used in film come from. This is a vital issue I think.   And how ironic if it turns out that Whimsical Design is accepted not in the science community but in the elite film communities. Its not very likely to happen, but it might, and we will just have to see.

For a discussion of whether or not an animal is biped or not, see this paper by Alexander.

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