Scientists Gain New Respect For Turkeys

US - Bird's Brains Have Much In Common With Humans
calendar icon 23 November 2007
clock icon 3 minute read
Not as stupid as they look.

Perhaps more than any other animal in America, the turkey symbolizes the ambivalence that many people have about animals. The turkey figures simultaneously as a sacrificial victim, a figure of fun, and a sacred player in America's mythic drama about itself as a nation.

The word turkey as an all-purpose term of derision has been traced to the American theater meaning a "third rate production." In James T. Farrell's 1932 novel, "Young Lonigan," the character Dooley is described as "one comical turkey, funnier than anything you'd find in real life."

The term "gobbledygook" is attributed to U.S. Rep. Maury Maverick from Texas, who, as chairman of the Smaller War Plants Corp. during World War II, issued a 1944 order banning the bureaucratic jargon he said reminded him of his "old bearded turkey gobbler back in Texas who was always gobbledy-gobbling and strutting with ludicrous pomposity."

The idea of the comical turkey persists in the litany of sarcasm that accompanies the piety of Thanksgiving each year in the United States, when newspapers and other media poke fun at the "Thanksgiving Day bird" along with the human "turkeys" in power, and holiday rituals include, or have included, everything from throwing turkeys off scaffolds and out of airplanes to forcing them to participate in turkey "Olympics" and in White House "turkey pardoning" ceremonies.

America celebrates its heritage paradoxically by feasting on a bird reflexively despised by mainstream culture as stupid, dirty and silly, a misunderstanding reinforced by the turkey food industry, which alternates between caricaturing the turkey as a ludicrous "personality" vs. representing the bird as an anonymous "production animal." Stock photos of thousands of de-beaked turkeys crowded together awaiting slaughter in nondescript sheds reinforce the popular idea that turkeys are worthless except as objects of sport and meat.

Even so, the derogatory turkey stereotype is starting to change. In the last quarter of the 20th century, the creation of farmed animal sanctuaries and turkey-adoption programs offered new opportunities for people to get to know turkeys differently from the demeaning stock versions of the bird.

Partly in response to these encounters, a growth in vegetarianism is occurring in the United States and elsewhere. At the same time, the avian sciences are debunking the prejudice against birds in general, and ground-nesting birds such as turkeys and chickens in particular, as "primitive."

Source: MercuryNews
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