Who controls the message controls the mind:
The  true story of animal abuse behind the Teddy Bear          by author Rochelle Duhaime

The plush teddy bear has to be the ultimate symbol of cute and cuddly. Interestingly, its origins are as conflicted (and shrouded in doublespeak) as our current relationship with sentient beings.

I share this story because studying animal rights I often have cause to reflect on humanity's near psychopathic ability to rationalise and justify its most atrocious behavior. This story documents how we sanitise an animal's grim reality into warm and fuzzy «human interest» (sarcasm intended). Many different versions exist of this story. I have used the one1 researched by author Jon Mooalem2 as being the best documented.

In November 1902, early in his term, President Theodore Roosevelt, an avid «sportsman»3 and budding conservationist was invited on a Mississippi hunting expedition, involving trophies for deer, bear and other animal kills. Bears were perceived and prized by hunters as formidable and dangerous prey. Dogs were used to run the animals to ground (exhaust them) for the hunters. Most of the President's party had already caught their kills, when, on November 14th, the President left the guides and dogs and returned to camp for lunch. While he was away the guides tracked and loosed the dogs on an old bear and when they caught the bear pinned by the dogs against a tree, the chief guide was happy to crack it over the skull with his rifle butt, and lash it to the tree, saying that the President would get his bear kill, using his horn to call Roosevelt back to hunt. The President was sadly disappointed by the bear, which, the story has it, was «sickly, emaciated, and old», and decided it would be «unsportsmanlike» to shoot it. Instead, he asked his aide to slit its throat (true); and the hunting party dined on the bear over several days. In point of fact, the NY Times of November 17th 1902 « describes them finishing off the bear’s roasted paws with a side — no joke — of possum and taters»4

A leading political cartoonist of the day5 immortalised Teddy's refusal to kill the bear (himself), omitting the dirtier details detracting from the human interest angle.

The story of President Roosevelt «sparing» the bear mushroomed to good purpose to enhance his image and reputation, and the «teddy bear» was born. Now it is symbol of all that is warm, cuddly, kind: baby powder, apple cheeks, baby`s breath. This story that never was is now glorified on November 14th «Teddy Bear day» in the U.S.A. The Roosevelt Association with its own version of the Roosevelt «cute» teddy bear story6 gives away Teddy Bears to sick children in hospital.

Such was, and is, the power of PR. We are of course much more sophisticated today. One of the ways of controlling the message is through language7.

Another is through messages in mass media and advertising. Here, as an example is the BC milk marketing Board webpage8.  

PETA’s unsuccessful legal challenge of the California Milk Board’s «Happy Cow Campaign»9 shut down the campaign anyways. However, over the course of 12 years of legal wrangling, PETA (and others) made good use of the court of public opinion by successfully managing the message  that rare is a shiny clean healthy dairy cow peacefully grazing on real grass outdoors.


As long as the message controls the content the marketing machine can try to create a safe buffer from any end-use (aka you the consumer) accountability for the very real, horrendous animal cruelty and suffering in this abysmal chain of exploitation.The point may not be to win in a court of law but to sway the hearts and minds (and wallets) of the public through strong targeted messaging.

That cute teddy bear morphed from the death throes of that old sick bear - chased, cudgeled and eaten in the name of sport in 1902. That cute teddy bear made President Roosevelt's public image. But, “Who controls the message controls the mind”10 must also control the heart. The «happy cow» California campaign was and remains a marketing disaster.

Beware this therefore, in the emotionally charged sphere of Animal Law and rights, and heed perhaps an ancient:

“For there is but one essential justice which cements society, and one law which establishes this justice. This law is right reason, which is the true rule of all commandments and prohibitions. Whoever neglects this law, whether written or unwritten, is necessarily unjust and wicked."
(Marcus Tullius Cicero, On the laws



Note 1 source Ted Talk by author Jon Mooalem http://www.ted.com/talks/jon_mooallem_the_strange_story_of_the_teddy_bear_and_what_it_reveals_about_our_relationship_to_animals; accessed Nov 28, 2014;
Note 2 Jon Mooallem is the author of "Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America." ;
Note 3 hunters were typically called sportsman if affluent and participating in group hunting expeditions, complete with  camp cooks, guides, dog teams, etc. ;
Note 4 taken from Mooalem's Ted Talks notes - Nov 17 1902 NY Times archives here: http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9C0CE5DC1E30E132A25754C1A9679D946397D6CF ; accessed Nov 28, 2014;
Note 5 “Drawing the Line in Mississippi,” by cartoonist Clifford K. Berryman, from the Library of Congress' archives http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2008678324/ ; accessed Nov 28, 2014;
Note 6 see http://www.theodoreroosevelt.org/site/c.elKSIdOWIiJ8H/b.8684621/k.6632/Real_Teddy_Bear_Story.htm tells the story this way «But Roosevelt took one look at the old bear and refused to shoot it. He felt doing so would be unsportsmanlike. However, since it was injured and suffering, Roosevelt ordered that the bear be put down to end its pain» ; accessed Nov 28, 2014;
Note 7 We routinely see these euphemistically neutral words «rendering, cull, harvesting, downed, processing» and here's a few more from animal testing discussions referring to an animal used in live lab experiments– “animal model”, or even just “model”, “organism”, “subject” and instead of monkey, ape, chimp – “nonhuman primate” for a cage lets hear it for the “housing system” and kill or euthanize – “terminate”, “cull”, “cut from the study”  (lab words sourced from http://animalfeasance.com/tag/euphemisms/ ; accessed Nov 28, 2014;)
Note 8 picture of website from:  http://bcmilkmarketing.worldsecuresystems.com/ ; accessed Nov 28 201;
Note 9 for a good discussion of these legal challenges see Mo, Donna, Unhappy Cows and Unfair Competition: Using Unfair Competition Laws to Fight Farm Animal Abuse,
UCLA Law Review, Vol. 52, Issue 4 (April 2005), pp. 1313-1358 available from heinonline.org; for PETA's perspective see http://www.peta.org/features/unhappy-cows/unhappy-cows-lawsuit/ ; for an example of alternate message control, see
http://www.science20.com/cool-links/happy_cows_1_peta_0-93820 ; for the cases see  PETA vs. California Milk Producers Advisory Board, S131634.
Note 10 (my) poetic license taken on the original quote attributed to musician Jim Morrison which is «who controls the media controls the mind»