8/18/2015

The Neotnic transformation of Mickey Mouse kept me up at night

Summarizing the "A Biological Homage to Mickey Mouse" kept me up at night. It helped to have a wealth of experience to draw on. At first glance, “A Biological Homage to Mickey Mouse,” by author and Harvard professor Stephen J. Gould, appears to be about Mickey Mouse. However, a closer look reveals it to be an allegory of human interaction with children. Neotany is the retention of juvenile features, which Gould discusses in his article. Gould was influenced by researcher Konrad Lorenz, who postulated that juvenile features automatically trigger an instinctive response in humans to nurture babies. This response is important to the continuation of humanity.
Mickey’s appearance changed as he reached new audiences. Audiences viewing the “Steamboat Willie” (1928) debut demanded better than to see Mickey beat on cows. By his fiftieth birthday, his behavior improved and his sharp-nosed, small-eyed appearance metamorphosed into that of a big-eyed toddler. Mickey’s suspenders became baggy clothes. The neotonic transformation included creating a softer face by moving the ears back on the head, a shorter nose, and rounded jaw line, giving him a more childlike somatotype. Mickey looks like a child, therefore we relate to him as a child.

Because humans are lifelong learners, toy industry researchers are keenly interested in making dolls more appealing; Mickey is no exception. To explore the transformation, Gould scientifically compared three versions of Mickey to Mickey’s less-popular cousin “Morty Mouse.” Except for head length, Morty retained adult features while Mickey appears younger now than at the debut. Ultimately, it is the transference of human emotion onto inanimate objects that enables us to form a lifelong appreciation of Mickey Mouse.

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