Posts Tagged ‘animal abuse’

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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“Beating a(n almost-) dead horse” in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.

Monday, February 8th, 2010 by

A mule in Bolivia

Since writing about Jon Stewart’s banter with Congressman Anthony Weiner about “beating” Michael Bloomberg “like a rented mule,” I haven’t been able to distance myself from the images evoked by this phrase. While our language is replete with speciesist terms and expressions, I find this one particularly troubling. After much contemplation, I think I finally understand why.

When I was younger, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment was a favorite of mine. I first encountered the novel in either 10th- or 11th-grade English class, and it so appealed to my macabre, angst-ridden teenage sensibilities that I read it several more times over the years. I’ve long since forgotten all the story’s particulars, however, one scene has stayed with me, as if imprinted in my subconscious: protagonist Rodya Raskolnikov’s dream – related so vividly in the book – of watching his fellow townspeople beat an elderly and infirm mare to death in a drunken mob rage. While this scenario doesn’t quite line up with the idiom “I’d beat x like a rented mule,” the sights, sounds and emotions conjured up by the phrase are exactly the same – and horrifically so. (Ditto: “Beating a dead horse,” so charmingly illustrated on the Pocket English Idioms website.)

Adding another layer to the text is the dream’s symbolism:

Rodya’s dreams always have a symbolic meaning, which suggests a psychological view. In the dream about the horse, the mare has to sacrifice itself for the men who are too much in a rush to wait. This could be symbolic of women sacrificing themselves for men, just like Rodya’s belief that Dunya is sacrificing herself for Rodya by marrying Luzhin. Some critics have suggested this dream is the fullest single expression of the whole novel, containing the nihilistic destruction of an innocent creature and Rodion’s suppressed sympathy for it (although the young Rodion in the dream runs to the horse, he still murders the pawnbroker soon after waking). The dream is also mentioned when Rodya talks to Marmeladov. He states that his daughter, Sonya, has to sell her body to earn a living for their family. The dream is also a blatant warning for the impending murder.

After the jump, I’ve copied the entire dream sequence – but I should warn you that it’s extremely graphic and troubling. (And certainly nothing to laugh about, however much one may dislike Republicans who buy their way into public office.)

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Anthony Weiner, Jon Stewart share a good teehee over animal abuse.

Friday, February 5th, 2010 by

The Daily Show logo

“For my next bit, I shall kick a puppy. Bolstered by your applause, I may urinate on it as well.”
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Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY) appeared on The Daily Show last night, ostensibly to discuss health care reform. At one point, the conversation turned towards politics, with Stewart referencing Weiner’s failed 2005 mayoral race against Bloomberg, as well as his decision not to run in 2009, after Bloomberg successfully petitioned the NY City Council to extend existing term limits. The conversation quickly devolved, with two generally progressive men comparing Bloomberg to an enslaved animal, and snickering over animal abuse culminating in murder:

Stewart: Are you – uh – running for mayor? My feeling was you could have defeated Bloomberg in this cycle – uh, but, you did not run. Are you gonna run the next time

Weiner: I could have – I would’ve beaten Bloomberg like a rented mule, [cue raucous audience laughter] but I decided, I uh…[pause for audience cheering; Weiner laughs, Stewart nods head in agreement]

Stewart: Okay, how much does it cost to rent that mule? Because…

Weiner: It’s an expensive mule.

There’s so much speciesism packed into these four (three, really) short sentences; where to begin?

– Mocking abused and enslaved animals? Check.

– Making light of animal abuse? Check.

– Intimating that you yourself would like to beat an animal to death? Check.

– Objectifying a sentient being by referring to him/her as an “it”? Check.

– Unquestioningly referring to an animal as rentable property? Check.

As much as I dislike similar expressions (e.g., “I don’t have a dog in this fight.”; “Let’s kill two birds with one stone.”), comically joking about “beating a rented mule” has got to be one of the worst of the bunch. The image conjured up by this phrase – that of an exhausted, elderly “pack” animal, already worked to the brink of death, being bought, paid for, and used like a punching bag on which to take out one’s frustrations – is pitiful and sickening. To laugh at such misery and suffering is…well, it’s fucked up. Serial killer fucked up.

To be fair, I doubt that Weiner, Stewart and others who callously employ these phrases spend much time deconstructing the comparisons they’re making. But ignorance isn’t an excuse. And words matter.

Video after the jump (fast forward to 4:30 for the fauxgressive bravado):

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Lost‘s Sayid Jarrah: A History of Violence

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010 by

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Caution: Spoilers through Season 5 below.

Last year, I wrote a (relatively) brief summary of the few animal-friendly plot lines found in seasons one through four of Lost. Animal advocacy issues are rarely addressed in the show, but look closely, and you’re bound to discover occasional gem: lovable Kate is a vegetarian, while show villain Anthony Cooper enjoys blood sports such as hunting. The Losties (understandably) took to hunting wild boar for sustenance early on, but the slaughter quickly ceased when they discovered the Dharma food drops. And who could forget Sayid’s memories of Amira?

While nonhuman animals didn’t much figure into the season five story arc, one episode in particular stuck with me. In fact, I meant to write about “He’s Our You” (Season 5, Episode 11) months ago, but somehow it kept getting placed on the back burner. With the final season of Lost set to begin tonight, what better time to revisit an old episode?

As I noted previously, Sayid’s story lines oftentimes revolve around the themes of forgiveness and vengeance, with Sayid struggling to come to grips with his strikingly violent past. As a soldier in the Iraq Republican Guard, he was captured, co-opted, and trained as an “interrogator” (read: torturer) by American forces during Operation Desert Storm. At the close of the war, his “skills” were put to use and turned against his fellow Iraqi citizens in the Republican Guard, where he was promoted to the Intelligence division and tasked with torturing dissidents and political prisoners – including his long lost childhood love, Nadia (as well as the aforementioned Amira). Torn between his allegiance to his country and his moral qualms, he helped Nadia to escape, but could not bring himself to go with her.

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Once on the island, Sayid (somewhat reluctantly) put his interrogation skills to use several times (as if fate would not allow him a break from his past – even when stranded on a lost island!), first torturing an innocent but obstinate Sawyer, and later, a guilty but cunning Ben Linus. During the “A-list missions” and battles with the Others, Sayid proved to be a valuable military asset. After escaping from the island, Sayid reunited with Nadia, only to see her murdered not a year after their wedding. The rest of Sayid’s time off the island is devoted to hunting her killers down, one by one, and exacting revenge. This came with an uneasy alliance with Ben, on the premise that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” However, it’s still unclear whether the men Ben directed Sayid to kill had anything to do with Nadia’s murder – or if Sayid was being conned.

Flash forward to Sayid’s return to the island – circa 1977. Here, a lost and confused Sayid struggles with the reason why he’s been brought back to the island; what is his purpose here? After meeting 12-year-old Ben Linus, Sayid has an epiphany: if he was to kill Ben, then the young, innocent Ben would not live to grow into the evil, adult Ben that the Losties know and hate – and thus most of the (present-day) events in Lost would never occur. But can Sayid really murder a child in cold blood?

He’s Our You” deals with Sayid’s inner struggle over this complex moral dilemma. As with earlier episodes, Sayid wonders whether he’ll ever be able to escape his past as a torturer and killer; are these merely things that he has done – bad things, of course, but things that can be left in the past – or are they what he is? To what extent do Sayid’s sins define him as a person? And, given the American occupying forces’ role in shaping his destiny, is Sayid a natural born or man-made killer?

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Violence, compassion and vegetarianism on Lost.

Monday, February 23rd, 2009 by

Crossposted from V for Vegan.

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Proceed with caution: Moderate spoilers ahead. Specifically, I’ll be discussing Sayid’s flashbacks in the Season 3 episode “Enter 77” (3×11). There may also be a few small spoilers through Season 4, but none for Season 5 – promise! (Although the external links may lead to more current spoilers.)

The husband and I became Losties rather late in the game. We picked up Season 1 on DVD on a whim during the writer’s strike last winter; within the first five minutes of the pilot episode, we were hooked.

Lately, I’ve taken to consuming pop culture with a more critical eye. I’ve always been somewhat sensitive to how women are portrayed in the media; increasingly, I’ve consciously tried to expand my “circle of compassion” vis-à-vis pop culture to other marginalized groups, including non-human animals. While animal welfare issues rarely surface on Lost, one episode in particular has stuck with me – “Enter 77” (3×11), a Sayid-centric episode.

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