A thing that drives me disproportionately crazy is the ‘bald eagle screaming’ sound effect in pop songs. I don’t know what is going on with this screaming eagle, and why people keep sampling it, but I’m sure I’ve been hearing it more and more often. What is going on with all these eagles? Are they targeting me? Tonight I was at a spin class at the gym, and the instructor had the volume up high. The song finished, we all dripped and panted in the darkened room, and after a brief silence there was this sudden godforsaken scream of outrage. Eagle! Eagle in the room! We were meant to imagine it, majestic shark of the sky, swooping down on a scurrying rodent and tearing it to pieces! This heralded the start of some shitty techno that we all had to pretend to cycle uphill to. The eagle screamed its head off once more halfway through the song. Wild and free!
I should note something though. The scream that we’re supposed to think is the bald eagle’s scream is actually a red-tailed hawk’s scream. I guess someone decided they had to dub over the real bald eagle’s call, thus setting this lie snowballing, because the true call of the bald eagle is quite timid. It’s a tiny cackle more than anything, or a little ‘heh heh’ laugh. (Listen here.)
I’m glad that New Zealand’s national bird has such a bizarre call. The male brown kiwi sounds a bit peeved, like it’s discovered a huge mess someone else has left behind that it has to clean up. Aaaaaaaghhh! I’m at my wits’ end! It’s difficult to project patriotic sentiment on to that sort of racket. And the female sounds like Marge Simpson’s mum.
The thing that bothers me about these screaming eagles, though, is that it’s just another reminder that people are no good at letting animals be animals. We have to project our own nonsenses on to them, for all of history and all over the internet forever. The bald eagle has to be wild and free and eternal (although Benjamin Franklin disagreed, labelling it ‘a bird of bad moral character’, ‘generally poor and often very lousy’ and also ‘a rank coward’). The tiger has to let us gawk into its eye, and see the thrill of the fight so we can rise up to the challenge of our rival. Dolphins are always smiling. Snakes are either evil or symbols of penises, usually both. Doves bring peace. Slow lorises have to be almost unbearably adorable as they raise their arms to be tickled, in what is actually a gesture of total panic. It is just so annoying to us when animals don’t mean what they look like they mean.
I’m really looking forward to reading Gef! The Strange Tale of an Extra Special Talking Mongoose by Christopher Josiffe (here’s an amazing long review by Bee Wilson). The tale sounds literally incredible. Gef the Manx mongoose, who made his home with a rural family in the Isle of Man in the 1930s, was said to speak in a number of languages, and could also sing, whistle, cough, swear, dance, laugh satanically, and attend political meetings. Basically he was a benevolent but sometimes irritating presence. The family fed him bananas and oranges, chocolate and biscuits, sausage and bacon (he rejected the bread and milk they tried him on at first). Now, this is the sort of animal story I can get behind. Bee Wilson: ‘Over the months … the Irvings warmed to some of Gef’s ways, and he became a pet of sorts, who amused the family with his gossip and jokes. He was less eager to share these witticisms with outsiders who came to the house to check him out. He didn’t like to speak to people who doubted him and punished them with silence and insults or threatened to blast them away with a shotgun.’