The negative and inaccurate portrayal of squirrels in American mass media and entertainment must cease. Consider this a rallying cry on behalf of our furry-tailed, tree-climbing, acorn-eating friends.
Your eyes are rolling. I can hear them. I know what you’re thinking. They are squirrels. They have been handed all of life’s advantages for eons. Why should you care whether a writer or filmmaker or advertising hack depicts a squirrel in an absurd and utterly unrealistic way to get a laugh or sell a product?
Because even though many squirrels do, in fact, live down to the appalling mass media stereotype, the vast majority of squirrels actually are competent, caring, engaged, hard-working rodents. Rodents who are tired of being made fun of as a group, just for the sake of a cheap laugh.
Think it’s not a problem? Consider how squirrels have been depicted in children’s movies in recent years. Scrat from Ice Age? A tweaked out, acorn-obsessed addict who would rather chase a nut than avoid certain death in an avalanche. Hammy from Over the Hedge? Also tweaked out, particularly susceptible to the lure of caffeinated beverages, which are like squirrel amphetamines. One dose, and Hammy turns into a seething mass of hyperactivity and pure adrenaline. That’s just not realistic, and it has to stop. In the brilliant animated film Up, what do Dug and the rest of the talking dogs of the South America jungle get distracted by throughout the film? That’s right. Squirrel! They are merely a comic prop, good for nothing but a laugh. Squirrels demand equal screen time from now on. Or any screen time, for that matter. And not of them being tweaked out. Screen time of squirrels being squirrels, as they do. It’s only fair.
Even our preschoolers are not immune from negative stereotypes of squirrels. Witness one of our younger son’s favorite board games: Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel. Sneaky and Snacky? Why not just call the game Felonious, Gluttonous, Stinking Rodent and be done with it? Say what you really think, game makers. Show the true depths of your anti-squirrel bias.
Or, better yet, in all seriousness, why not call it Industrious, Athletic, Cute-as-a-button Yard Pet? Because that would be far more accurate and provide America’s youth a genuinely positive impression of our furry little buddies. Our children deserve to know the truth about squirrels. Their lifelong impressions are being formed now. It’s not too late.
Not every depiction is inaccurate or demeaning. Fortunately, the good people at Mary Baldwin College — home of the Fighting Squirrels — have it right. Here’s an excerpt from the school’s website, explaining why the squirrel was chosen for its school mascot.
“In heraldry the squirrel is a symbol of industriousness, trustworthiness, and preparation for the future. It also has been used to represent those with a love of the woods. In Nordic mythology, the squirrel is a symbol of the soul. These ancient meanings apply to Baldwin athletes who know that diligent work will pay off at game time and that their teammates depend on them — and equally apply to all Baldwin women (and men) who are disciplined in their focus, strive to do good in the world, work toward environmental sustainability, and seek wellness of body as well as soul.”
Yes. That’s more like it. Truly inspiring. Thank you, Mary Baldwin College. It is encouraging to see that someone, somewhere, understands the plight of the gentle, humble squirrel. Perhaps there is yet hope for the squirrel community, after all.
We can dream.