The animals from Polar Bear Cafe are having something of an existential crisis this week. Or, rather, they’re coming to the realization that being an animal is inherently some crisis of purpose and there’s not much they can do about it.
See, animals are defined by some thing. To speak in internet terms, animals are defined by a meme– some narrowly defined trope that humans impose upon them that encompasses everything that’s expected of the species in question. Look at Mr. Otter. The visitors at the zoo all but demand that he crack oysters on his belly. Naturally, smashing an object against your stomach is gonna hurt. It’s instinctual for him to do it, since he’s an otter, but he’s also well aware of the pain that comes from the act. And then there’s Mr. Anteater. The visitors expect him to eat ants. It’s in his fucking name. If he doesn’t eat, is he even an anteater? Mr. Anteater knows he’s an anteater, but will anyone else know if he doesn’t eat ants?
And animals like Mr. Llama have it worse. He doesn’t even have an identifying characteristic that draws people to him. Even his friends struggle with finding purpose in his existence. Is he just a donkey? If he’s related to a camel, where’s his hump? If eating grass is your thing, why does it suck so much? Mr. Llama longs to have the sort of imprisoning characteristics that limit Mr. Otter and Mr. Anteater. He wants those shackles in order to attain a degree of freedom he doesn’t have within his prison made out of his lack of identity.
These animals are at a crossroads. They want to branch out from their instincts and establish their own identities, but in doing so they rob themselves of their identities in the eyes of those that view them. At the same time, by embracing these tropes that define them in society, they deny themselves their own identities and make their lives filled with malaise.
And they all look longingly at Sasako. She’s the lone human in their inner circle. Being human, she’s defined by her ability to define her own existence. That’s the trope we’ve forced upon ourselves: free will. Animals may possess free will on an individual basis, but as a species they’ve been defined by a lack of free will, and this oppressive weight makes the animals envious of Sasako’s natural freedom.
If anything, Polar Bear Cafe is showing us that we’ve created a true crisis of identity in the animal kingdom. Not only are we harming animals by hurting the environment, hunting endangered species, and the like, we’re robbing them of the very basic ability to exist on their own terms.
Then again, the animals are kinda jerks, so they might deserve it. Especially Polar Bear himself. Much like ourselves, when posed with the same questions as the animals, he resorts to sarcastic jokes that dodge the question. The bastard. Just like us.