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Analysis / Good Animals, Evil Animals

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Species Morality Coding

Many predators (whether omnivorous or carnivorous) and scavengers are usually pegged as bad, mean, or evil even though most are not especially mean or aggressive in Real Life. Most herbivores are pegged as good, friendly, or nice even though many large herbivorous mammals are especially mean and aggressive in Real Life. Despite this trope's existence, animals that are pegged as bad or evil in fiction are actually not evil at all in Real Life and deserve respect and conservation as much as animals that are pegged as good in fiction, do.

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Sometimes, there are differences with the species' moral coding across different cultures. For example, in Western cultures, ravens are generally portrayed negatively morality coding wise, but in Pacific Northwest Native American folklore, they are Guile Heroes. Cats (though usually not kittens) are generally considered bad luck and mean in most of Western cultures, but in various Asian cultures, cats are generally pegged as lucky and good. Dogs, while generally portrayed as heroic and good in Western and some Asian cultures, are always pegged as savage and evil in Middle-Eastern cultures.

Sometimes, some types of animals within a larger group of animals are portrayed either more negatively or more positively morality coding wise. For example, turtles, tortoises, and certain types of lizards are pegged as good guys whereas other reptiles are generally pegged as bad guys. Ravens and crows are technically songbirds, but unlike other songbirds, they are generally pegged as bad. Sometimes this even occurs within a species. Dogs, despite being predators and scavengers in real life, are typically portrayed as heroic and lovable, but certain adult dog breeds, such as bulldogs, pit bulls, chihuahuas and dobermans, are regularly cast as villains. Most of the rat characters in the media are presented as sewer rats, which are pegged as bad, but other subspecies of rats such as pet fancy rats and water rats can be on the side of good.

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Sometimes, there are differences in the moral coding of a species across different time periods or locations. For the longest time, wolves were among the most demonized animal species, and in Europe and Asia this attitude still prevails. In North America, however, with its much larger tracts of wilderness, the wolf is viewed more positively. Also, sperm whales were generally pegged as bad guys in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but that portrayal of sperm whales has faded away as whaling became discredited. Before people knew that gorillas were gentle animals, they were generally cast as pugnacious bad guys.

Some animals are usually pegged as good despite the negative expressions and associations attributed to them. For example, skunks are recently portrayed as good despite being associated with sneakiness and the expression, "drunk as a skunk." Also, when a person is called a "dog," the label usually refers to their disloyalty, even though real dogs are fiercely loyal (if not savage), and fictional dogs, can be either heroic and good, or savage and evil.

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With some animals that are often pegged as bad or evil, the young of the species doesn't normally follow the moral pegging often attributed to the species' adult form. For example, when humans are cast as bad guys, it is usually adults that are cast as such. Children can be cast as villains, but it's usually done as a subversion or as an Enfant Terrible. Teens can be either/or in moral pegging. Also in Western media, adult cats are often cast as bad or mean, but kittens are usually exempt from that moral pegging. If a kitten is cast as evil, it's usually done for comedic purposes.


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Species Morality Coding List

    Bad Guy Animals 

    Good Guy Animals 

    Either/Or Animals 

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