The “Safe Animal” Sensibility - ACLA 2023

deadline for submissions: 
October 31, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
Jiwon Rim and Yea Jung Park
contact email: 

This panel invites discussions on the contemporary politics of the “safe animal” in literature and media—in all the registers and valences of “safe.” An overworked but underexplored cultural trope, safe animals are constantly in demand across various forms of popular media: animal memes and pet-related small talk are the safest conversation starters, “cute” cat pictures always promise to comfort, and ample cultural scaffolding is in place to help us stick to animals that are safe. For example, the website Does the Dog Die, a crowdsourced platform for “emotional spoilers” about movies and other popular media, promises to protect viewers from “upsetting” material including the death of animals. Such a platform does double duty: even as it designates certain narratives as “safe” or “unsafe” for fragile human sentiments (for people who “don’t want to see cute stuff dying” as they chill for the night), it also provides a much-needed corrective supplement in that it draws attention to animal narratives often sidelined in mainstream synopses as not being part of the “real” story (except in notable cases such as the John Wick series, in which a dog’s death catalyzes the entire action). The representation of animal death in narrative media, and the representation of “safe” and “unsafe” animals more broadly, is thus a productive site for thinking through our ideas about the relation between animals, what we consider to be “real,” and what we consider to be “safe.” An interest in safe animals can be an interest in keeping animals safe from harm, as well as an interest in keeping humans safe from emotional engagement and pain. Moreover, due to its status as a fiction, the safe animal in narrative media can reflect a human wish to remedy or make up for real-world animal exploitation, or a wish to simply unsee it.

We invite nuanced considerations of human-animal relations in the interspecies contact zone, with an eye to the utopian desires and not-so-utopian realities of human-animal relations as channeled through the figure of the safe animal. We seek papers that are both appreciative and critical of the recent discourses around the safe animal. Some suggested topics include:

  • safe animals as consumer commodity
  • keeping virtual animals safe vs. keeping real animals safe
  • virtual animals and the unhurt/unhurtable
  • social consensus on “acceptable” representations of the animal
  • working conditions of animal representation
  • cuteness, memeworthiness, and safety
  • making traditionally “unsafe” species safe
  • safety from humans vs. safety for humans
  • the “safe animal” sensibility and artistic creation/revision
  • the “safe animal” sensibility as a lens for reappraisals of earlier cultural artifacts

The ACLA 2023 Annual Meeting will be held on March 16-19 in Chicago, IL (USA). Please submit your paper proposal through the portal on ACLA's webpage: https://www.acla.org/node/add/paper. Scroll down in the "Seminars" dropdown to select "The 'Safe Animal' Sensibility." Feel free to reach out to jiwonrim@snu.ac.kr or yeajung.p@columbia.edu with any questions.