Hyewon KeumR23, 2013, from the series Cloud Shadow Spirit, 2013-2014.
Photo: courtesy of the artist

The Multispecies Family

Deirdre Madeleine Smith
“Most people don’t know it, but we’re in the middle of a pet explosion,” says John “Cal” Harberts, the gentle, pragmatic proprietor of the Bubbling Well Pet Memorial Park in Napa, California, from Errol Morris’s Gates of Heaven (1978).1 1 - Errol Morris, director. Gates of Heaven. Performance by Lucille Billingsley, Zella Graham, Cal Harberts, and Albert Bitterling, MGM, 1978. Criterion Collection: Gates of Heaven / Vernon, Florida DVD Collection, 2015. “And this is brought about from the new pattern that has emerged in the past ten to fifteen years in the family life,” he adds. After claiming that “the pill” and women entering the professional workforce had caused young couples to put off having children, Harberts further suggests, “This is just fine from a planning standpoint, but nature can’t be put aside, so when the young mother comes home she has to have something to fondle, something to mother, something to love. She’ll have a pet.”

Harberts’s commentary, with all its benevolent sexism and speciesism, indexes a perceived recent shift in family life in the United States — one that he hoped would ensure the viability of his business. As Morris’s documentary more broadly shows, the pet cemetery is a good place to begin thinking about the supplementing of pets into humanized structures of parenthood and partnership over the course of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first.

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Pages intérieures Esse 107 Famille
This article also appears in the issue 107 - Family

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