Individual Work
Animals are Placebos

Caren Beilin and Jennifer Smith’s interactive work, “Animals are Placebos” portrays their intended message through the use of metaphors. This literary work begins by giving the viewer a set of instructions as to how they are supposed to proceed with viewing the work. The experience begins with an image of a pill bottle with the letters “rx” on the front, which obviously denotes that it is a prescription. The pill bottle is being shaken while the title “Animals are Placebos” is displayed. The title alone gives the viewer a clue as to what the work will be portraying, and it is clear that metaphors will be used in the work.
The viewer must click on the pill bottle to proceed past the title page. Once the viewer has clicked the pill bottle, the bottle is opened and the “pills” are poured out onto the table. There is a different animal on each pill, including a turtle, a rabbit and a bird as well as several others. However, one of the pills has a woman on it, instead of an animal, except for one pill, which has a woman on it. Also on this page are instructions that explain that the viewer must click on each pill that is displayed on the table. The instructions also note that the viewer may “repeat as desired.” The viewer is free to choose whichever pill they would like and can choose to click on the pills in any order. Once the viewer has clicked on one of the pills, a short segment of the literary work is displayed.
Each paragraph that is displayed after the viewer clicks on a pill, explains how animals can be used as medicine in some way. However, the authors use the idea that animals can act as medicine as a metaphor. In this work, animals are being compared to a pill or some form of medicine. The title itself reveals this metaphor. Placebo is defined as medicine that has no real chemical substance, but often allows the mind to overcome illness just by believing in the medicine. Therefore since animals are compared to placebos, the message of the work is that animals can act as an alternative to medicine by soothing the mind. For example, when the rabbit pill is clicked, one of the lines in the paragraph that appears is “Take a rabbit to feel better.” The authors portray the rabbit as a sort of prescription or pill that a person can take to get rid of their illness. However, the underlying message is clear that animals are an alternative way to sooth the mind and feel better. This point is supported even further by the use of the prescription pill bottle as well as the pills that are marked by different animals. The metaphor is actually drawn out for the viewer.
While Beilin and Smith’s “Animals are Placebos” metaphorically equates animals and medicine and gives the viewer the idea that the love and companionship of an animal has a positive effect on someone who is ill. However, they also use this metaphor to illuminate the idea that alternative forms of healing should be used instead of drugs. When the rabbit pill is clicked, the authors suggest that when there is “no science to ingest,” we should turn to animals. First of all, they have grouped all medicines into one concept: science. The way that this line was written gives the viewer the idea that the authors do not support “ingesting science.” The authors suggest using animals instead, which could also be expanded out into all other alternative medicine. The authors might also be trying to show that animals can help even if there is no cure for the patient’s illness. Animals will always be there to help people feel better. In one paragraph, the authors compare science to an “out of control yeast.” This comparison shows that science is growing rapidly and according to the authors, its growth is “out of control.” When the cat pill is clicked, the viewer is urged to once again use animals as “medicine” and “wait, with false, effective hope.” This line explains to the viewer that while animals are not actually medicine that can chemically cure someone of their illness, they are effective at soothing the mind and producing a positive effect on someone who is ill.
Overall, Beilin and Smith’s “Animals are Placebos” is a pleasant and interesting work that gives the viewer just enough information so that the viewer can make some interpretations on their own. While the authors provide a clear metaphor comparing animals to medicine, the viewer is able to interpret the rest of the work on their own. However, as previously mentioned, the authors do provide a very strong and apparent message that alternative forms of medicine should be used rather than drugs. The author’s negative connotation towards science is apparent when they compare science to an “out of control yeast” and urge the patient to “walk out of the hospital.” While these are some of the main ideas addressed in the work, it is clear that there are numerous hidden meanings found in this work. This work gives the viewer the idea that each line of each paragraph has many hidden messages and meanings that could be uncovered. The numerous literary devices in this piece allows the viewer to see the layers and layers of hidden meanings. While this piece is not one of Beilin and Smith’s most well known pieces, it is certainly thought provoking to say the least, and clearly reveals the author’s point of view.