Animal Planet

I spent my subway ride home yesterday reading this 2008 piece from GQ, Violence of the Lambs, in which “John Jeremiah Sullivan contemplates the coming battle between man and beast.” Exactly as the tagline suggests, the article spends a few thousand words describing how new technologies, human encroachment on animal habitats, global warming, and accelerated evolution have driven animals insane and led to an unprecedented surge in animal attacks.

This is a typical passage:

Attacks of dolphins on humans are noticeably up, with a particularly violent population repeatedly attacking swimmers off the coast of Cancún, killing at least two, with several more unexplained drownings that may have been “take under” incidents. Every marine biologist reached for comment after those confirmed attacks said the same thing: “There’s no such thing as a fatal dolphin attack.”

This news would be startling to Henri Le Lay, president of the Association of Fishermen and Yachtsmen at the port of Brézellec in Brittany, who spoke with reporters about “a psychotic dolphin,” nicknamed Jean Floch, that has been going after fishermen in their boats. “He’s like a mad dog,” Le Lay said. “I don’t want to see any widows or orphans. This could end badly.”

Sea lions, too, are going after human beings for the first time. Not accidentally bumping into them but pursuing them through open water. In Alaska one jumped into a boat, knocked a fisherman overboard, and took him down. Sea lions are famous for fleeing any sort of conflict. Expert opinion? “Abnormal behavior.”

Sullivan appears to be an otherwise extremely well-liked, respected author who has been published in many of the nation’s finest magazines. And I haven’t quite figured out how I’m supposed to think about this article. Is this just a genre of GQ joke articles that I haven’t kept up on?

His theory is absolutely insane, which he acknowledges several times throughout (see also the editor’s note at the end), but the writing is lucid and smart. And there’s something I found weirdly irresistible or gripping about in the way he navigated this “look I know this sounds insane, but…” territory. It reads like a combination of Unsolved Mysteries and When Animals Attack but somehow kept me reading. I feel like I shouldn’t have found this as engrossing as I did.

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3 Comments on “Animal Planet”

  1. Jonathan H. says:

    That article is crazy. I have no idea what to make of the ending where he talks about making up parts of the piece, and the editor’s note. Is this some weird form of meta-pseudo-journalism or creative nonfiction? And when will Charlie Kaufman adapt this into a screenplay?


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