From Sexual Selection to Sex And The City: the Excessive Commodity Biogeographies of the Blue Bird-Of-Paradise

Authors: Merle Patchett*,
Topics: Cultural Geography, Biogeography
Keywords: sexual selection, lively capital, birds of paradise, extinction, biogeography
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: 8222, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper takes as its starting point an encounter with a preserved blue bird-of-paradise skin. Though rare, the bird became wildly famous after it perched atop the head of Carrie Bradshaw during Sex and the City: The Movie. However, where in the movie the bird-skin acted as Carrie’s something blue, I mobilize it in this article as a “telling example” of near-extinction. This is because the blue bird-of-paradise is but one of the millions of Paradisaea that were hunted, traded, shipped and lusted after since their earliest forms of commodification. And paradoxically it was the genus's enduring liveliness in death that mobilized and maintained them as commodities across time and space. Moreover as the theory of sexual selection confirms, biographical entitlement cannot be assigned to a singular agent in the blue bird-of-paradise’s commodity story, which is why this article will chart its biogeographies. Here, instead tracing the blue bird-of-paradise’s individual commodity biography, it becomes an act of tracing and placing the bird-skin within the life and death worlds of human-animal relations that mobilized and maintain(ed) it as a lively commodity from New Guinea rainforests to New York streets, or from sexual selection to Sex and the City. In doing so the article extends Haraway’s (2008) concept of the “lively” commodity to the preserved animal body and highlights the lamentable role natural species and histories can play in human histories of capitalist excess.

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