Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Smile! Octopus.

A couple weeks ago a deep-sea researcher friend, Craig McClain, commented that one of his pet peeves is grinning cartoon octopods. He didn't give more explanation, but I'm guessing it is because it is completely anatomically incorrect to put their mouths on top of their heads (er, bodies?), and we all know that octopi rarely smile:

Smiling is forbidden (and anatomically impossible).
But, they do have a great sense of humor:

Adorable, and hilarious.
This weekend the Little Bear asked me to play with her "fish stickers", and who should be staring up at me, but a cheesin' octopus. I immediately thought of the earlier comment, and then noticed how wrong all of the pictures are (note the smiling pufferfish, and gak! starfish!!). 

Looking across the stickers, the Little Bear was able to describe most of the species to me, and I started to wonder how harmful (although still incorrect) a cartoon octopus might be. I asked the Little Bear if she wanted to look up a video of an octopus. After an enthusiastic "yes!", we searched youTube and found some cool videos. Seriously, this one is really cool - I had NO IDEA they could just get out and walk on land, WHERE HAVE I BEEN HIDING?? 

Where was I? Oh yeah, cartoon, smiling, anatomically incorrect octopods. We both loved watching this videos of sea creatures, and the Little Bear had no problem identifying the octopus, or being in total awe of it. My general inclination is to always give accurate representations of life. We have a poster of real coral reef fish on her wall, we look up videos of real octopi and squid, and we try to choose books that accurately depict animals and plants. But, we can't avoid all cartoons, or stickers, or books with talking animals, and I think that's okay. The Little Bear, in my opinion, does a pretty amazing job of understanding that the smiling octopus is actually a simplification of a real octopus, and, even at 2 years old, goes back and forth between them with ease. 

In a world full of cartoons, I'm happy that there are more than puppies and kitties aimed at kids. Heck,  I even love the giant microbes. And really, who ever thought Chlamydia could be cute? But if these representations can help inject science into our daily lives, I'm all for them!

Yes, it would be nice if companies would make their materials realistic, especially about the natural world, which is so amazing/entertaining/intriguing on its own. But, I don't mind a few talking sharks, or smiling squids, if it increases the general public's interest of (and, hopefully, desire to understand) science. This is even more critical in areas of research that are not always immediately awesome to the public. 

By the way, I showed up at daycare to find all the kids sitting and playing with finger puppets. The Little Bear had chosen a lime green octopod (which was surprisingly anatomically correct for a finger puppet - no smiling mouth here!). I guess I should ask Craig if he needs a summer intern. 

Octopus puppet beats fairy puppet. Always.

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