The Human Zoo

Posted: November 26, 2013 in Experience & Identity

This course is driving me nuts! Just when I thought it was ok to be myself and not question anything, I now find I have something else to think about! It’s not enough to worry about the image I am portraying every time I have my photo taken, or to question my masculinity and the role of advertising, to think about my cultural capital and how I’m going to make sure my own children have plenty of it or the decline of DIY skills and whether that makes me less of a man than my dad. Now I find I am living in a human zoo and there is really no hope for me! I thought Bristol was a pretty cool place to live (and still do) but now I’m looking at the city with a different perspective, one that Desmond Morris outlines in his 1959 bestseller, The Human Zoo. In the book, he argues that:


“many of the social instabilities we face are largely a product of the artificial, impersonal confines of our urban surroundings. Indeed, our behaviour often startlingly resembles that of captive animals, and our developed and urbane environment seems not so much a concrete jungle as it does a human zoo.”


I must admit, late at night in Bristol can be a pretty scary place and I find myself being much more aware of my surroundings and my safety, but at the same time I love the buzz of city life and the thought of living in a cottage in the middle of nowhere fills me with dread.

But maybe it’s because I am a student living in a big city, that I feel differently about being ‘caged’ in this human zoo. Increasingly we are being herded into massive urban areas and we are having to adapt our behaviours and our ‘humanness’ to suit these environments. For me at the moment, Bristol is just an exciting, vibrant city but perhaps as I get older, the walls of the zoo will become increasingly smaller and I will begin to feel trapped. Already I am wondering if I am adapting my behaviour to suit this way of living (getting up earlier to beat the traffic, being aware of pickpockets in large crowds). But isn’t that what makes the human race so successful – our ability to adapt to our environment? What is worrying I guess is the impact that will have on our humanness in the future. There is even a condition now called ‘Zoo Human Syndrome’, where it is believed that people who suffer from depression, frequent illness, obesity, and a lack of energy, do so because they are living in an environment that is unnatural.

The human zoo is growing day by day and increasingly humans are being disconnected from their natural world through technology, cultural norms and the nightmare drive to work each day.

Suddenly Bristol feels a bit enclosed – I might have to go home and have a wander through the Cotswolds!


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