Why is 'carnivores are mean' so prevalent in modern fiction? Humans almost count as the penultimate apex Predator on this island earth and are so distanced from the real food chain that we only come into to contact with it is in situations that go horribly wrong. So why is it we feel superior to the 'Non-cute' Predators? (Side note here, Deer will eat small birds in time when food is scarce).
You answered your own question. We humans are so distanced from the food chain that we only come into contact with it in situations that have gone horribly wrong. We don't generally go running through the woods to leap onto an animal and rip its throat out with our teeth. Even when we hunt, we do so with guns and bows, removing the most gruesome aspects of predatory behavior. So most civilized people don't relate to predators in a really visceral, physical way. But we do relate to prey on that level, by virtue of being scared of monsters as children, and of being attacked and killed as adults. Since we've industrialized our food supply and don't really live as predators, we're much more inclined to sympathize with the deer who's being stalked by a wolf than the wolf who's doing the stalking.
If you don't empathize with the wolf, YOU'RE NOT HUNGRY ENOUGH YET.
YMMV, and while I'd easily admit I may be somewhat of a bad example simply due to geographic reasons, (I live in Minnesota, where lakes are every where, and the fishing regulations allow for the consumption of catches) I feel about on the same level of predatorship as, say a wolf or a snake, where I have, at least three times, killed something that would be considered prey for the sole purpose of eating it. While I did it with a combination basic bait trap/fillet knife, I still see myself as a predator.
Unless you ripped out its throat with your teeth, there's still a gap there.
Not in the case of the snake, but I see your point. However, humans are still predators, no matter how they prey on their prey. They are also scavengers.
Also, let's face it: to our ancestors, those predators were both threat and competition. Meanwhile, prey animals meant meat on the table if you could catch them (and keep those dang predators away from your catch long enough to eat it yourself, of course). Hmmm, wonder which of the two categories could possibly have the better reputation...
This probably figures a lot into why people don't care about saving certain animals. The stereotype is that people care less about saving tigers and eagles than they do about pandas because the pandas are cuter, but it might be more about the fact that tigers and eagles seem like they can take care of themselves. People do love eagles and tigers, after all, but they aren't that enthusiastic about saving them.
Actually, I'm not sure it really is. Big predators like wolves and lions are the focus of all sorts of stories, while Bambi, let alone the concentrated awesome that is Watership Down, is decidedly in the minority (And before you go and cite Redwall, most of the so-called "vermin" are considerably less predatory than badgers). Additionally, many others are romanticized, especially eagles and other birds of prey; how often have you heard something like "soar like an eagle" instead of "soar like an albatross"?
Ironically, albatrosses are far more brutal predators than eagles. Crushing your victim's skull with talons? How about ripping off chunks of flesh from a creature much bigger than you (like a whale or seal) while still alive? Why albatrosses don't fit Rule of Cool I don't understand.
Even more irony; "soar like an albatross" is actually much more legit than "soar like an eagle". Albatrosses are the largest flying birds alive today, with the largest having a wingspan that can reach up to twelve feet. Not to mention that they can spend months flying without even landing.
The name. "Albatross" is an inherently funny word, which makes it hard to take them seriously.
Good point. Still, "soar like a wild goose" is not in a lot of people's vocabularies either.
Predators Are Mean is often less about a dislike for the predator, and more a matter of needing an enemy. And malicious or not, predators do kill. This is why they're often left feral while the prey animals are anthropomorphized.
True, it certainly makes for easier writing. In a setting where all or most animals are sentient, it's difficult to make a predatory creature even remotely likeable if he is shown feeding.
Why the hell are reptiles as a whole grouped as "ugly and mean"?! I mean, the lizards most people encounter are literally harmless to them, and are in fact beneficial for eating most of the insects that they don't want in their homes. Snakes are also great in controlling pest populations by devouring mice and rabbits, both of which can be devastating to farmers and our food supply. Sure, some snakes can be quite dangerous, and crocodilians are notoriously territorial, but mammals are no better than them. Since when have reptiles transmitted rabies? Or raided our food supplies? And also, I seriously don't understand how something as adorable as a garter snake can be considered "uglier" than a hippopotamus, which is both ugly and dangerous as hell.
I think the fact that reptiles can't be trained to be tame like mammals can might have something to do with it. No amount of raising will make an alligator calm down to the point where a handler doesn't have to worry about restrainsts. Even the harmless ones are only harmless because they either lack the power to be dangerous, or they're vegetarians. Compare to a lion, which while still incredibly dangerous, can be handled by somebody if tamed.