In 2010, I wrote a blog post for this website that I called “Teddy Bear Country,” in which I attempted to answer my daughter’s question: “Why are bears like babies?” She meant, why are bears so often portrayed in an infantile fashion, as in modern versions of “The Three Bears,” and the ubiquitous teddy bear?

As soon as she asked, I became obsessed with the notion.

Eleven thousand years ago, the North American short face bear became extinct, along with the rest of the continent’s megafauna. It was a deadly predator, perhaps one of the deadliest mammals ever, and some people believe its existence may have delayed the dominance of humans in North America by several hundred years.

Yet, 11,000 years later, the short face bear’s local kin–grizzlies, black bears, and polar bears–are as wild as ever, but they are often mistaken for someone who wants a cuddle. Read more at Luna Station Quarterly…

Wild At Heart

Theodore Roosevelt by Clifford Berryman
Theodore Roosevelt by Clifford Berryman

The sentimentalization of bears began with “Teddy’s Bear,” that cute and cuddly version of the powerful predator that was first manufactured following President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt’s refusal to shoot a malnourished and frightened she-bear who had been tied to a tree for him to “hunt” at his leisure. It’s a fascinating story, one that I wrote about on June 27, 2010 (“Teddy Bear Country”).

At the end of that post, I wrote, “I now know when the sentimentalization of bears began, but I don’t know why. Do you?”

Exactly four years later, I have my answer, in the form of a TED talk given by Wild Ones author Jon Mooallem: “The strange story of the teddy bear, and what it reveals about our relationship to animals.” Jon Mooallem is a wonderful speaker and his thesis about the sentimentalization of bears is thought provoking.