In the discussion about the visual culture of livestock portraits in the 18th-19th century, we discussed the way that the owners of the livestock used portraits to portray a large and always exaggerated body of their livestock to exhibit wealth, prosperity, and good breeding. While these acts were meant for promotional tactics, people today have transitioned this practice to their own furry friends through social media. Groups such as the Useless Farm on TikTok, or the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada on Instagram and Twitter use filming and photography to show healthy animals or, animals on their way to becoming healthy. The Portrayal of animals in social media has always been popular, however with the advent of TikTok, farms and sanctuaries are able to make short clips featuring the process in which animals come to their space, how the hosts interact with these animals, and the facilities which are offered to prospective animals. The access to broadcast imagery and free information about animals, typically cute ones, have proven to be an excellent selling strategy in this century and the last.
So, while we have progressed from oil paintings and watercolours to digital content, I wonder if humans instinctually know that animals sell in all capacities, that imagery of happy, healthy, and good-looking animals sells and in turn creates attention. I wonder if with COVID-19 people gravitated towards animal imagery more, and if so, how would that even be measured?
That question is still new, and while some reports say there was an influx (Elassar 2020), I wonder about the social and mental dependency people have built on these images of animals in their daily life. Additionally, how much do people invest in this image of a happy, healthy farm? Some farms allow donations or “adoptions” in which a person pays for one animal’s upkeep. Did this act of theoretical adoption emotionally support people during the pandemic? I wonder if the level of investing in animals and livestock is the same as the 19th century, however just not so globalized. Another view of this adoption situation could be in the GoFundMe campaigns for pet services, volunteer and donations to humane societies, farms, and sanctuaries selling merchandise featuring a “famous” animal such as the Useless Farm in Kingston Ontario, which sells a line of clothing with quotes beside specific animals that are popular on their TikTok account such as Michael the Alpaca.
I am interested to see if there are any studies in the future about animal and farm dependency on human mental health during the pandemic, however, at this time that information is few and far between.