Will Animals Overthrow Humanity? The Surprising Plausibility of CBS's Sci-Fi Drama 'Zoo'

Tuesday, 09 June 2015 - 2:45PM
Tuesday, 09 June 2015 - 2:45PM
Will Animals Overthrow Humanity? The Surprising Plausibility of CBS's Sci-Fi Drama 'Zoo'
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What if animals banded together to try to take back the world from humanity? The question sounds pretty absurd, but it's a question that 'Zoo', the new TV show premiering on CBS June 30th, is attempting to answer.

Humanity's guilty conscience over the current treatment of animals could make this an enjoyable piece of Science-fantasy, but is there any reason for people to be worried about the animal population turning against them? Maybe. If the first objection to the scenario is a questioning of the animals' intelligence, their ability to join together, to recognize humanity as a threat, to plan for the future, then you may be underestimating some mammals.

In the TedTalk "Chimps Have Feelings and Thoughts. They Should Also Have Rights," lawyer Steven Wise explains and defends his campaign to change the status of chimpanzees from "legal things" to "legal persons." He talks about how chimpanzees have cognitive capabilities resembling humans, autonomy, are conscious that they are conscious, know they are individuals, know they live, remember and anticipate, possess a sense of morality, can numerate, and have language and culture. Yet these animals are still considered "legal things" under the law, while in different parts of the world corporations, mosques, holy books, and even a river have all been granted the title of "legal persons."

In the trailer for "Zoo," one of the characters states that animals "don't have ambitions, they don't have egos,"1 but that statement is the kind of thinking that Steven Wise is disputing, the kind that denies animals what could be their legal rights, and the kind that could lead to retaliation in a being capable of recognizing their oppression. Science fiction has already recognized the world-conquering potential of primates as seen in the popular "Planet of the Apes" franchise. But "Zoo" does not just concern itself primates. The trailer shows us animals ranging from lions to hyenas, and even domesticated cats turning violent (we're sorry Mittens, please don't kill us).

While the idea of chimpanzees turning violent and rebelling is not out of the realms of reality, the thought of such behavior coming from other animals seems unimaginable. But such a situation is, in fact, completely plausible. Anyone who saw the documentary "Blackfish" is familiar with Tilikum, the SeaWorld killer whale responsible for the death of three people, including a top trainer. If you didn't see the documentary, you may have heard of the deaths and near-deaths suffered by trainers at SeaWorld and similar entertainment centers when their whales suddenly turned against them. Granted, this wasn't a coordinated attack like the one scene in 'Zoo', but it is harrowing nonetheless.

The official description for "BlackFish" states that the film "shows the sometimes devastating consequences of keeping such intelligent and sentient creatures in captivity." Like the chimpanzees, these whales suffer as "legal things" used for entertainment, but there is no sci-fi "Planet of the Apes" scenario needed to imagine how these whales might handle the stress of their imposed environments. The violence has already happened.

So, while "Zoo" may be just another slice of science fiction showing us a hyperbolic possibility, but that's not to say it doesn't carry with it an important message.
Science of Sci-Fi