the animal algorithm
📯 I don't know wtf is going on with the markdown. It's making the header dots look wrong and forced me to use some funky formatting in this post. I'll try to figure it out when I get home, sorry
It's interesting how the popularity of unusual animals seems to wax and wane in unpredictable ways, almost as if it's being controlled by an unseen algorithm. Canids and felids will always have universal appeal, and animals perceived as pests or hazardous (i.e. raccoons, possums, snakes, skunks) will only ever have niche appeal; but any other animal, particularly ones an English-speaking audience aren't likely to encounter outside of a zoo, can enjoy bursts of popularity seemingly out of nowhere.
Two animals I like that are popular at the moment are sloths and axolotls. Sloths I've always liked just because they're slow and lazy and chill, like me. I expect one could trace their current wave of popularity back to Zootopia in 2016. I've never seen it (ACAB) but the trailer/commercial seems to have gone somewhat viral on its own. I didn't like it, personally, but if it helped more sloth-related T-shirts and plushies and knick-knacks and memes become available, I'll take it.
Axolotls I became aware of many years ago because of one of those "today I learned" style posts (I forget if it was literally on /r/TIL or somewhere else) about how the pokemon Wooper is based on a real animal. They're cute smiley little salamander fellas, so I could see how they'd be popular, but for whatever reason they only seem to have blown up in the last year or two. It might be partially because they were recently added to Minecraft, but I don't know if Minecraft is the cultural juggernaut it once was, so that might be effect rather than cause. But the once-obscure critter is starting to pop up in unexpected places:
Izzy got me these stickers 🥰
I'm glad they're having a moment. When I learned about them all those years ago, I never imagined there'd be such a wealth of cute axolotl stuff available.
Some of the stuff available at axolotl-plush.com (not an endorsement)
I don't know the genesis of this explosion, but I bet we have Japan to thank. They know a cute critter when they see one, and they don't have the unfair bias against creepy-crawly types that we do in English-speaking countries. Heck, maybe it does all go back to wooper, and it just took everyone else awhile to catch on.
One of my favorite animals that enjoyed a burst in popularity in the 2000s is the penguin. We had movies like George "Mad Max" Miller's Happy Feet, an almost too-cute musical that was the #3 animated film of 2006;
And a year before that March of the Penguins, a documentary that made $127 million on its $8m budget. Penguin plushies and other related merchandise were plentiful. But then the penguin bubble burst. It's not that people dislike them now, exactly, they're still as adorable as ever, they just feel a bit like yesterday's news.
I wonder what the next big animal trend is going to be. Personally, I think the alpaca is way overdue. There's no way an animal so incredibly fluffy and friendly-looking isn't going to be universally beloved.
I mean, come on.