Reading Kids and Dogs

For the first time, I am simply going to post a link to another person’s content: Madeline Gabriel’s post, “Should You Share That Cute Dog and Baby Photo?” on her blog “Dogs and Babies.” But of course, since I am an academic, this “simple” redirect will be followed by a few points of analysis.

“peaceful and companionable”

First, I am not posting this here because I find the pictures particularly cute. While some of them are cute, there are many far cuter pictures available on the interwebs. Also, I am not especially a dog person.

I’m sharing this post this because I love the attention to detail and close readings of body language in Gabriel’s captions: “Dog and toddler in parallel position, peaceful and companionable.” … “Dog appears relaxed and calm, baby is not close enough to put dog on edge and is not ‘aiming’ for the dog.” … “This dog is clearly ‘with’ her boy so the arm around her is appropriate for their relationship. It’s still a nice side-by-side orientation.”

“baby is not ‘aiming’ for the dog”

This kind of (dog) body language reading has clear implications for communications pedagogy. It’s the sort of thing we teach in our workshops and meetings with students preparing for their in-class presentations. I teach a lot of the same things, more intensively and from a different angle, in acting classes.

I like how Gabriel includes very concrete descriptions, such as the physical orientation of kid and dog in space, alongside more intuitive or emotional perceptions, such as a dog actively being ‘with’ a kid. For each photo, she describes both what kid and dog are doing independently and their relationship to each other. This is further inflected by a developmental perspective on childhood in which different age ranges make possible different kinds of child-dog relations.

“this dog is clearly ‘with’ her boy”

But more than these basic points about nonverbal communication, I posted this link because Gabriel is analyzing photographs. She is not telling stories or anecdotes about dogs and kids but giving detailed and descriptive interpretive commentary on a visual image. This is the kind of close reading I like to see of photographs documenting the performing arts, where the angle of an elbow or the slightest facial expression can be probed for subtle and nearly intangible meanings. In the context of new media, I’d like to see more of this type of reading applied to video as well. This is starting to happen, but so far I have not come across many scholarly works that precisely reference particular moments of theatre documentation to make specific points about acting, directing, or anything else.

I’m dreaming of something like VOCAT for scholars of theatre, dance, and performance studies: an online database that allows for highly specific citation and annotation, so that the tiniest details of embodied performance can be referenced and analyzed by multiple commentators. As I ponder the implementation of such an active archive, I take inspiration from Gabriel’s readings of kids and dogs.

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