Archive: January 2011

Human/Animal = A False Divide

Sunday, January 16th, 2011 by

The Wolfman (2010)

While The Wolfman (2010) is hardly what I’d call an animal-friendly film – or even a good film – I found this exchange between two “gypsy” women (Irish Travellers?), tending to an injured man in the wake of a werewolf attack, rather insightful (if unintentionally so):

Daughter: Once he is bitten by the beast, there is no cure. You should let him die.

Maleva: That would make me a sinner.

Daughter: There is no sin in killing a beast.

Maleva: Is there not?

What of killing a man? Where does one begin and the other end?

Elsewhere in the movie, villagers are shown tying up a moose and using him as “bait” with which to catch the werewolf who had been terrorizing their village (happily, the moose escapes unscathed). Additionally, the traveling gypsy clan owns a “dancing” bear who is initially blamed for the “animal attacks.” While the bear appears to be computer generated, his captivity still makes for depressing viewing. Last but not least, the bulk of the story’s plot involves the hunting of a werewolf, which could quite possibly be construed as a matter of self-defense, as said wolfman primarily preys on his human kin.

Possibly there’s a more nuanced discussion to be had on the animal ethics of The Wolfman; if so, I’m not feeling it. In one word: yawn.

Sexy hot dogs, killer cats and Crappy Meals: Catching up with The Colbert Report and The Daily Show.

Thursday, January 6th, 2011 by

During my three-month absence from POP!, I have been tragically neglectful in sharing with you all things bestial on two of my favorite faux news shows: The Colbert Report and The Daily Show. (Mostly The Colbert Report. The student has surpassed his teacher my many a comedic mile!)

Case in point: back in September, Stephen brought in some “pretty beer girls” to serve the troops during a special, week-long military appreciation edition of The Colbert Report, culminating in a guest appearance by Vice President Joe Biden as a hot dog vendor:

This was followed the next day by a sexy dude dressed in a hot dog suit, “for the lady troops”:

Naturally, PETA was not pleased:

[Neither was I – that is, when I watched the show many a month later (it aired when I was on vacation in NY) – but I didn’t see fit to write a press release about it. It doesn’t take a marketing genius to know that the general public will view this as so much opportunistic bandwagon-jumping and/or an “attack” on the troops. YOU MUST SUPPORT THE TROOPS AT ALL COSTS! BY WHICH I MEAN NEVER EVER NEVER QUESTION A MOVE MADE BY THE U.S. MILITARY! Like duh.]

Anyhow, I promise to be better in keeping up with this stuff in the New Year. In this vein, I come bearing two more recent clips:

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Milk addictions, Nazi monstrosities & long-suffering canines: Three things about The Strain.

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011 by

“Once upon a time,” said Abraham Setrakian’s grandmother, “there was a giant.”

Young Abraham’s eyes brightened, and immediately the cabbage borscht in the wooden bowl got tastier, or at least less garlicky. He was a pale boy, underweight and sickly. His grandmother, intent on fattening him, sat across from him while he ate his soup, entertaining him by spinning him a yarn.

A bubbeh meiseh, a “grandmother’s story.” A fairy tale. A legend.

“He was the son of a Polish nobleman. And his name was Jusef Sardu. Master Sardu stood taller than any other man. Taller than any roof in the village. He had to bow deeply to enter any door. But his great height, it was a burden. A disease of birth, not a blessing. The young man suffered. His muscles lacked the strength to support his long, heavy bones. At times it was a struggle for him just to walk. He used a cane, a tall stick – taller than you – with a silver handle carved into the shape of a wolf’s head, which was the family crest.”

“Yes, Bubbeh?” said Abraham, between spoonfuls.

“This was his lot in life, and it taught him humility, which is a rare thing indeed for a nobleman to possess. He had so much compassion – for the poor, for the hardworking, for the sick. He was especially dear to the children of the village, and his great, deep pockets – the size of turnip sacks – bulged with trinkets and sweets. He had not much of a childhood himself, matching his father’s height at the age of eight, and surpassing him by a head at age nine. His frailty and great size were a secret source of shame to his father. But Master Sardu truly was a gentle giant, and much beloved by his people. It was said of him that Master Sardu looked down on everyone, yet looked down on no one.” (pp. 1-2)

Spoiler warning: minor plot details discussed below.

The Strain (2009)

So begins The Strain, a 2009 vampire novel co-authored by filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) and novelist Chuck Hogan (Prince of Thieves: A Novel). Set in present-day New York City, the story follows Ephraim Goodweather – an epidemiologist with the CDC – as he races to stop the spread of an virus that essentially hijacks its host body, transforming human to vampire. (Nonhuman animals appear not to be affected, though this doesn’t preclude their consumption by vampires. Spoiler warning: the dog gets it!)

Transmitted via the exchange of bodily fluids (usually in the form of a “brutal” feeding frenzy as opposed to a more sophisticated and sexy neck bite), the virus is as old as the seven vampires – the Ancients – who are spread out among the “Old” and “New” Worlds. Kept under wraps by a tenuous truce between the Ancients for centuries, the virus is about to be unleashed upon humanity by a renegade vampire – the Dark One, Master, Sardu, The Thing – with the help of one especially evil, ambitious and self-involved human. (A billionaire, natch.)

Our hero “Eph” is accompanied by fellow CDC scientist Nora Martinez, along with a rag-tag team of unlikely experts, namely: Vasily Fet, an exterminator working for the City of New York and Abraham Setrakian, an elderly pawnshop owner and Holocaust survivor who has spent much of his life in pursuit of the Dark One.

I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone, so I won’t go any further into plot details than this. One rave featured on the back cover describes it as “Bram Stoker meets Stephen King meets Michael Crichton”; I don’t know about Crichton, but if you’re a fan of Stephen King and/or modern-day vampire stories, you’ll love The Strain. Nor can I offer a comprehensive look at what I’ll call the story’s “animal ethics,” as The Strain is the first part of a trilogy. (I’m still waiting for a copy of The Fall to become available at my public library, and Eternal Night won’t be released for several more months.) I would, however, like to discuss several specific passages and plot details.

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“Changing nature to get the food we eat”: Karen Davis on the Speciesist Indoctrination of Children

Saturday, January 1st, 2011 by

2011-01-01 - 3-2-1 Contact Mags - 0010

A pile of 3-2-1 Contact magazines that I found in my filled-to-overflowing library.
Have a problem, who me?
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In Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs: An inside look at the modern poultry industry (1996; revised 2009) animal advocate Karen Davis offers an exhaustive and heart-wrenching examination of the “poultry” industry, which is responsible for the exploitation and slaughter of an astounding 10 billion chickens annually (in the U.S. alone; worldwide, 40 billion chickens are raised and killed for their meat and eggs ever year). During her journey from the wild to the farm – and from conception to death – Davis touches upon some of the social and psychological mechanisms that pave the way for these atrocities.

Humans are taught from an early age that the earth’s resources – including other sentient beings – were “put here for our use.” We create a false divide between “us” and “them” by denying our own animal nature: there are “humans” and there are “animals.” We deny our similarities – the ability to feel pain, experience emotions such as love and joy (and sadness and fear), form and nurture fulfilling relationships – while simultaneously looking to our relatively minor but wonderfully diverse differences as an excuse to objectify, enslave and exploit the “other.” Nonhuman animals are largely considered property – “its” – more akin to a tree or tomato plant than a human being. Simply put, we exist in a supremely speciesist and anthropocentric culture – and we indoctrinate each successive generation into accepting this skewed and oppressive worldview.

Pop culture, including books, television, and movies, are central to this indoctrination. For example, Davis singles out two children’s shows for criticism – both of which were staples in my own childhood: Reading Rainbow (1983-2005?) and 3-2-1 Contact (1980–1992) – to demonstrate this process:

Chick hatching projects teach children and teachers that bringing a life into the world is not a grave responsibility with ultimate consequences for the life created. Children’s public television has contributed to this desensitization and to the fallacy that chickens have no natural origin or need for a family life. The Reading Rainbow public television program “Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones,” based on a book by Ruth Heller, shows that other kinds of animals besides chickens lay eggs. However, chickens are the only ones represented in barren surroundings. One heartless scene shows a baby chick struggling out of its egg alone on a bare table, while ugly, insensitive music blares, “I’m breaking out.”

The 3-2-1 Contact show “Pignews: Chickens and Pigs” has aired frequently on children’s public television. Promoting the agribusiness theme of “changing nature to get the food we eat,” it shows hatchery footage of newborn chicks being hurled down stainless steel conveyors, tumbling in revolving sexing carousels, flung down dark holes, and brutally handled by chicken sexers who grab them, toss them, and hold them by one wing while asserting that none of this hurts them at all. These scenes alternate with rapid sequence images of mass-produced fruits and vegetables. Children are brightly told that “farmers are changing how we grow 100 million baby chicks a week, 3 million pounds of tomatoes, 36 billion pounds of potatoes.” Chickens are described against a background of upbeat music as a “monocrop” suited to the “conveyor belt and assembly line, as in a factory.”

Is it any wonder that many people regard chickens as some sort of weird chimerical concoction comprising a vegetable and a machine? (p. 21)

[A full discussion of Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs is well beyond the scope of this blog, but you can read a rather lengthy review I published on V for Vegan.

If the psychology of animal exploitation is a topic that piques your interest, check out Melanie Joy’s Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism (2009), which I reviewed here.

Finally, parents in search of animal-friendly entertainment to enjoy with their children will find a friend in VegBooks.]