Thursday, May 26, 2016

Zoe vs. Her Spirit Animal: Cultural Appropriation, Identity Crisis, or Playing Pretend?

My daughter's spirit animal, from what I can gather, is some sort of Terrier mix of indeterminate hair color who goes by many aliases.
This new phase began one night a few weeks ago.
"Call me Pixie," Zoe said.
I stopped dicing onions to look down at her. Was she re-writing Moby Dick? I wondered.
"I'm a dog," she explained. "And my name is Pixie." She was on all fours. 
"What kind of dog are you?"
"Ruff. Ruff." She paused to consider her words then added, "Woof."
I waited.
"That means I'm a blue dog, with white spots."
Later, she was a white dog with blue spots. And her name was Violet. No, Snowflake. Because she's all white. And her name is Icicle.
Zoe barks and pants. She orders me to pet her. She dives face first into her bowl of Cheerios.
On the way home from school, she wants me to pretend to put a leash on her. She also wants to "meet and greet" other dogs. When we get home, she demands I throw balls for her to retrieve and she carries her stuffed animals around in her mouth.
Occasionally she steps out of character to let me in on her secret: She's not really a dog; she's just pretending!

Have you heard the term "spirit animal"? Probably, if you spend any amount of time on social media. And the term is not confined to animals. It's become internet speak for what person, animal, or thing a commenter relates to, whether it's Beyonce, a three-toed sloth, or a ham sandwich. To be honest, it never would have occurred to me this was cultural appropriation if I hadn't also learned that on the Internet, which is famous for being a wellspring of fellowship and sensitivity.
A large slice of humanity has taken a term with spiritual significance to Native American heritage and turned it into a meme. Because that's humanity. We all want to laugh (unthinking though not necessarily thoughtlessly, because we all like to think of ourselves as nice people) for about one second. Then, quickly now, let's get indignant over a friend's political post because in the following second we need our hearts to melt over a photo of unlikely animal best friends.
In any case, at this point the spirit animal jokes have become so ubiquitous they've jumped the shark, with apologies to sharks but not to those louts who claim that sharks are their spirit animals. Excuse me a moment while I disentangle myself from this Mobius strip of humor and commentary on same I'm caught in like a web of dog leashes wrapped around my legs. (Apologies to the legless.)
So, continuing to be part of the problem and not the solution, I took an online quiz (Behold the Internet and its wonders!), and I discovered that my spirit animal is a bear. Odd because I would've said sloth, or maybe cat because eating and then sleeping twenty hours straight is something I deeply identify with. But then I also identify with the aforementioned ham sandwich. Most sandwiches really. Especially if it has cheese. I guess you could say I'm spirit-animal omnivorous.
I'm a cis gender, Irish-Italian, so I suppose I can't truly understand cultural appropriation. But I imagine it's something like when you were in high school and you were correctly smug about being the first to like a band but then the band became too popular, and so you were vexed. Except, y'know, more. See, I get it. Next stop, spokesperson for all disenfranchised groups.
When I finally confronted Zoe about her insensitive posturing, she just licked my face. Some people just don't get it.

You're not fooling anyone, Philip.

Today, Zoe continues to walk her path of canine cultural insensitivity, on all fours, and it seems she's got at least some neighborhood dogs convinced. She approaches them in a state of excitement, and, thinking she wants to play, the dogs get excited too. At which point Zoe drops the act and becomes a little girl again. And one in particular named Zoe, who wants to pet the dog but is afraid and needs to work up to it. But since the dog and its person don't have all night, she's mostly disappointed when they walk away, and she whines, and I honestly can't tell if she's dog whining or just Zoe whining.
What I do know is later that night, when I pick up her stuffed animals to put them back on her bed, they will all have telltale wet spots around their midsections.

Zoe: 137; Universe: 0

For more of Zoe's hijinks, follow me on Facebook and on Twitter at @zoevsuniverse
I need a win here, people. 

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