The Dog Factor

The beautiful thing about stepping out into the world and experiencing other countries and other cultures is that you see things from another point of view. Sometimes it is one you hadn't considered before. And sometimes, you learn something about your own culture you never would have questioned before.

I had this happen when I was living in England. I had an experience that allowed me to see what Americans look like to...well, not Americans, and this revelation all started with a movie.

I was living in the UK in 1998 and 1999, and you may or may not know that American movies used to get released over there later than they do here. Because of this I had the opportunity to see the movie "Independence Day," twice with new-to-the-movie audiences.

The first time I saw the movie, I was a sophomore in college. I saw the movie in Denver, at a fairly well-known and very large theater. I also saw it mere days from when it came out, so we were in the Fourth of July spirit. The theater was hushed most of the movie, with a smattering of gasps and snickers during scary or funny parts. When the lights came up, people cheered. It was a serious (albeit fluffy) action film.

Or so I thought.

Then, two years later while living in Norwich, England, I attended the performance with four of my British friends. Within the first fifteen minutes I had begun to wonder if I was even watching the same film as they were. The entire theater would erupt into raucous laughter at parts I couldn't even begin to see were funny. By half-way through the movie it began to dawn on me that what I had previously experienced as a serious action film at home, was instead being treated like a full-on comedy by my British compatriots.


I left the theater bewildered and perplexed. How could an entire theater find humor in a dog running down a tunnel from scorching flames, only to jump to safety at the last second? Why is that funny? Where was the humor in people communicating with each other at the end by Morse code? Somehow, amidst what I perceived, there was a thread of humor that seemingly everyone could see but me.

Later I asked my friends about it and they laughed and laughed and made comments about "Americans and your cinema," how "Americans sure love their dogs," and "isn't it always the Americans the save the day. The rest of us don't sit around waiting, you know."

Later, when I was back stateside, I rented the movie for a third time and attempted to watch it from their perspective. And after spending a year, as anthropologists call it, "going native," I suddenly could see exactly what they were talking about. This scene truly is hysterical:

As this scene was as well. Trust me, most Brits found this either hysterically funny, or deeply offensive...."About bloody time" those American got off their butts and saved the rest of us....

And it wasn't just "Independence Day," either. No, suddenly all movies were viewed with the dual lens of American and British. Suddenly, I was the one laughing hysterically at bizarre moments. Because I am here in America, I mostly laugh alone. But once I saw things from their perspective, I couldn't un-see it. It is there, in my brain, forever. And Americans, Oh my LORD are we obsessed with our dogs!! Once I saw was permanently ingrained and suddenly I saw dogs everywhere.

So, next time you are sitting in a movie like the "Avengers: Age of Ultron" and you hear someone bust out laughing as the random dog leaps to safety as they are leaving the danger zone, or you hear someone snicker at the random dog in Transformers, or any other action movie ever made, just know, that what we see, isn't always what someone else sees. The dog factor is real. They truly are everywhere!

We even put them in movies that they have absolutely NO business being in. The novel, "The Road," which is a post-apocalyptic dystopia that has people eating people, made mention that few-to-no animals were left in the world because they had all been eaten. And  yet....and YET.... the movie, "The Road," ends like this:

Yes. That is a very healthy, well-fed dog you are seeing. I am sure that family, while attempting to resist the cannibalism that is rampant throughout the rest of the world, would have eaten that dog long ago. Not to mention, in a movie where food is that scarce, they never would have wasted it on a dog. But, this is America, and there has to be a dog in everything!

Seriously, this dog, from "Transformers," is just there for humor value....that and the unwritten rule (I can't find one) that you can't make an action movie and not put a dog in it somewhere. I suspect it is in some secret film maker by-laws:

I want you to think about that the next time you are watching a movie. Pay attention to the dogs. You will realize they appear in almost every film, not the just one's that are part of the story (The Husband has been converted, he sees the dogs now too so I no longer have to laugh alone.)

They are often random and extraneous, but God forbid you pull something like Ridley Scott did in "Gladiator," where you make the dog a part of the story and then fail to deal with what happened to him. That is tantamount to crucifixion-worthy.  No joke. You should see the message boards. Whether he forgot the dog as he claimed, or killed him off only to find out that wasn't acceptable to American viewers is hotly debated, but not dealing with it at all created a storm of criticism.

Americans do not stomach killing dogs very well. We even made a movie about a hit man coming out of retirement because someone killed his dog in "John Wick." Someone killed his dog, and that fact somehow justified his killing somewhere upwards of 75 souls. As an audience member, you are supposed to be ok with that math; 1 dog= 75 humans. And the sad part is, we are ok with it. Americans are really, truly obsessed with dogs. I am not sure what it is about the American culture that bonds so significantly with the loyal canine companion, but it is there, indisputably there.

So, whenever I am struggling with seeing something from someone else's viewpoint, I stop and think about my total confusion as I sat through a movie I thought was a serious action film, while everyone else was busy wiping tears of laughter form their eyes. Sometimes we are just coming from very different places. That is okay, as long as you can step out from time to time and realize that sometimes the dog really is the elephant in the room.

I am curious to know. Comment and let me know if you see it, the dog factor. It is like one of those hidden messages in the optical illusion, pay attention and you will start seeing it....then you won't be able to stop seeing it.