Sunday, 26 February 2012
Hooptedoodle #44 - Stereotyping in Nature
Occasionally, when I'm watching TV, I suddenly realise that the adverts are aimed at me - I mean me personally. I just know I am a target - I'm in the crosswires somewhere. Someone who is good at this stuff has doubtless worked out the likely profile of the people who will be watching this particular show, on this channel, at this time of day, and will have identified what other things that stereotypical viewer might be interested in. This afternoon I will be watching football (that may be soccer to you), so would expect to get plenty of ads for beer, or gents' toiletry products, or smallish cars. Maybe even for sports drinks, or football boots, or for those PlayStation sports-simulation games which have begun to replace actual physical exercise for our kids [which of course is why we have to import so many of our sports stars from developing nations which have not yet attained our own level of inactivity - separate topic for discussion...] There will be no ads at all for facial moisturiser creams.
The other night I was watching a programme about the D-Day landings on the UK History channel, and found that the ads were about life insurance for the over-55s, comfortable shoes by mail order, incontinence pads. Just a minute - that's not so good, is it? Should I be keeping an eye on the adverts, to check that I am correctly following the correct stereotype? Which way round does this work? I think I would be uneasy about someone accurately predicting that I would be watching a particular show. I would definitely be disgruntled by their then predicting what my marketing profile was likely to be, and I would be mortified if they were right! [In passing, is it possible to be gruntled? - I am interested in things like that.]
I guess it's something to do with not wishing to be predictable - I have always felt that if someone knows what I am going to do there is hardly any point doing it. In fact there may not be any point in being here at all.
I got to thinking about whether creatures other than humans consciously feel obliged to conform to some idea of stereotyping. In particular, do the birds come to the feeders in our garden because they are hungry and that is what they like to eat, or is it because they know we would be disappointed if they didn't? Who is watching who here (sorry, whom)? Is it possible that left to themselves the songbirds we know in our garden would actually prefer to eat at KFC?
Among the birds that come here, we are especially fond of the goldfinches. They are lovely, vigorous little things, with smart rows of buttons down their backs like Napoleonic footmen, and that wacky clown's makeup. Recently we haven't seen as many as we would expect, and Mme Foy came home a few weeks ago with a hefty bag of niger seed, and a special plastic feeder to dispense it. Niger seed, it says in the books - and especially on the back of the pack of niger seed - is what goldfinches really like. Interesting. Trying to ignore the fact that, gram for gram, niger seed is about the same price as prime foie gras, I think this through:
* could this be why the goldfinches have been neglecting us? - because we have had no niger seed?
* does this, in turn, mean that goldfinches eat nothing else? - in fact we know this is not true, since we have often seen them busily hoovering the general-purpose bird seed.
* perhaps it means, then, that they prefer niger seed if there is some, and a neighbour has had it on the menu? - in fact this is not likely either, since as far as I know none of our neighbours is that interested, and certainly not daft enough to pay out for niger seed.
* no - none of this seems likely - probably we'll put out the niger seed and we'll continue to have few goldfinches. We will have the same number of goldfinches, but less money. Perhaps they are dying out.
Don't you believe it. Within days the place was buzzing with goldfinches. Since they are untidy eaters, they throw the niger seed all over the place, and then there's a big feeding frenzy on the ground (see illustration). So where have they been? What's going on here? It is possible, of course, that we have now pinched all the goldfinches from the surrounding area, but in fact there were not many around. Probably best not to worry about this, I think, enjoy the little chaps while they're here and plan ways to save up for the next niger shipment.
It is interesting, though.