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Friday, May 24, 2024

COMMENTARY: We love the Raccoon Man

Arts desk writer Jacob Anderson loves the Racoon Man—and you should too

Raccoon connoisseurs out there need not be reminded of James Blackwood—the elderly Nova Scotian man who made his internet bones nearly a decade ago with a bucket of sliced hot dogs and several dozen feral (but rabies-free) raccoons on his property. 

Since his debut, he’s charmed the cultured among us with classics upon classics such as “Raccoons and Peanut Butter Sandwiches,” “2020 06 19 Friday Night Raccoons” and “Monday Night – Raccoons try whipped cream,” a monster filmography full of geriatrically-titled but undeniably lovable home movies of himself feeding his raccoons various foods. Blackwood, whose preferred title seems to be “Raccoon Whisperer,” is a consummate professional in the field of gonzo wildlife-feeding content.

While Blackwood is hardly a new face, his exploits have garnered mainstream attention at only a few specific points over his career—most recently, with his video “Mobbed by Raccoons (25) Tuesday Night 03 Nov 2020.” This video, not unlike the others of Blackwood’s oeuvre, features him sating his visitors with a generous three-course meal of sliced hot dogs, grapes and cookies that vanish at a ghastly rate as the animals grunt and hiss at one another, tiny hands grasping at the air with nunnish desperation from all directions surrounding Blackwood’s bench as he soothes them with a fatherly tongue.

“Take it easy,” he says. “Wall-to-wall raccoons,” he repeats at several points in the video. His observation rings true—the raccoons crawl all over and at points seem to nearly swallow him whole into a mass of fur and claws. He regales us with an anecdote about the closure of the Halifax bridge and later points his camera at his cat Connor, who seems to have been watching the whole affair from the other side of a sliding glass door: “Mister Connor—you know what? You took my chair. Tell ‘em that you took my new chair,” he booms, mugging the cat with his handheld camera. The cat just stares.

Blackwood’s motivations seem to be completely non-financial. Most of his videos gross well under 50,000 views, and he has made absolutely no effort to upscale his production in any way as he grows in popularity. In any other circumstance, this style would be nearly unwatchable. Blackwood makes it work.

The raccoons, as Blackwood revealed in an early video, were the charge of his late wife, who passed away in 2003. Her dying wish was for him to take care of her cats, raccoons and mother. Blackwood seems to have fulfilled her wish dependably.

Despite the moving context to these largely playful videos, Blackwood rarely speaks about his wife—the bulk of the conversational content in his videos is directed at raccoons and/or cats, who regard him with childlike absence as he speaks. They don’t understand him, but he knows this.

Raccoons live up to 20 years in captivity. In the wild, their life expectancy drops to about three years. This is primarily due to hunting (more frequently simple killing—raccoons are popularly seen as pests in areas of the U.S.), disease and starvation. Life isn’t easy for wild raccoons, and they find little kindness from the average person. This is to say that people like Blackwood are the exception, not the rule.

Wildlife biologist Stan Gehrt once said “People call me an expert, but one thing I’ve learned from working with raccoons for so long is, I’m not an expert.” Raccoons frequently defy empirical expectations of behavior and intelligence. Nobody, even in academia, knows entirely what to make of them.

Blackwood seems to have accumulated some wisdom about raccoons, however. “Boy,” he says, “They sure do like hot dogs.”

Written by: Jacob Anderson — arts@theaggie.org


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