Posts Tagged ‘horses’

George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead answers with an emphatic “Hells, no!”

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010 by

George A. Romero's Survival of the Dead (2009)

Spoiler warning!

Earlier this year, I wrote a brief piece about George A. Romero’s 2007 zombie horror flick Diary of the Dead. While the film did not explicitly address our treatment of nonhuman animals, the ending depicted two hunters tormenting a female zombie for “sport,” her “death” (if, indeed, one can kill the undead) becoming for them a form of entertainment, as opposed to a matter of survival. The narrator’s final words posed a question that I oftentimes ask myself, particularly during monster movies in which the future of humanity’s existence is called into question:

Are we worth saving?

You tell me.

Survival of the Dead is Romero’s 2009 follow-up to Diary of the Dead. While similar in style and tone, I found its ending and implications to be far more disturbing than those of its predecessor.

Without going too much into plot detail – it’s mostly incidental – Survival of the Dead follows a band of ex-military mercenaries (seen briefly in Diary of the Dead) as they escape a U.S. mainland riddled with zombies for a seeming island oasis. Located off the coast of Delaware, Plum Island is controlled by two feuding Irish families: the O’Flynns and the Muldoons. While the O’Flynn clan and its allies work to save the island and its remaining human residents from an infestation of the undead by finding and slaying all of those infected, the Muldoon camp believes that it’s their familial duty to keep their zombie kin alive – but chained up and under control – until a cure can be found. Naturally, these two philosophies cause a further rift between the competing families; ultimately, the Muldoons prevail, and Patrick O’Flynn – family patriarch and head of the zombie-hunting posse – is banished from the island.

After some time, O’Flynn returns in the company of the mercenaries, only to find the zombies “chained up […] in imitation of their previous lives – a mailman puts mail in a mailbox, a logger wields an axe on some wood, and so on,” as Wiki so aptly describes it. The remaining inhabitants have started to lose hope that a cure is forthcoming; instead, they’ve shifted goals, aiming to train the zombies to at least “act” human – and, more importantly, to crave and consume the flesh of nonhuman animals over that of their human kin.

Ultimately, a show-down between the two clans hinges upon Seamus Muldoon’s success in this endeavor. One of Patrick Muldoon’s daughters, the zombie Jane, is placed in a small corral with a horse, in whom she shows little interest. Instead, she bites the hand of her twin sister Janet, thus infecting her as well. A gunfight breaks out between the two warring factions, and in the chaos, a group of gathered zombies is set loose on the participants, most of whom are devoured by their undead relatives.

After the battle ends and the group disperses, Jane does attack the horse, biting a chunk of flesh from his body. Alas, the only witnesses to this “victory” are Janet and her father. As Janet rushes off to inform the departing group, Patrick shoots his infected daughter in the head; the secret now belongs to the ever-proud Patrick, and Patrick alone.

The Muldoons, it turns out, were right: zombies can be retrained to eat nonhuman animals. In the context of the film, this shift in consumptive preferences is presented as a “good” thing – progress, success, a triumph. But is it?

As a vegan, my answer is obvious. But one need not be an animal advocate to see the horrific moral calculations embodied in this message. As popularly imagined – and certainly, as presented in Romero’s films – zombies are…undead. Unfeeling. Immune to pain, of either the physical or psychological sort. Lacking in emotions. Incapable of anything but the most rudimentary, instinctive thought. Unable to bond with or even recognize friends and family members. But most of all, they are dead! They had and lived their one life and, while it may have ended prematurely, it is over.

And yet, we’re supposed to see the sacrifice of countless other lives in sustenance of the undead as a “win”? As compared to zombies, nonhuman animals are sentient; they are capable of feeling pain, and suffer immensely while consumed alive, piece by agonizing piece, whether by zombies or humans. They can think, fall in love, experience joy and sadness, and feel fear and longing. They have friends and families, daughters and sons, mothers and fathers. Their will to live is no less than our own.

Going far beyond the fucked up, speciesist morals and practices of existing human societies, Survival of the Dead imagines a world in which nonhumans animals aren’t just “less than” humans – but are also “less than” dead humans. Has-been humans. Once-were humans. Are no more-humans. At best, terminally ill and in need of swift, humane euthanasia. At worst, just this side of a rock.

Nonhuman animals < zombies = a world I don't want to live in. Is there a reason our undead families should snack on the flesh of nonhuman animals over that of humans? (After all, it is we who cannot accept their deaths.) Would we willingly offer our own bodies up to aid zombie dogs or undead polar bears in their own survival? (I think not.) And what happens, exactly, when the undead eat through all the nonhuman animal life forms on the planet? Humans are already devouring the planet’s resources at an alarming rate; earth simply would not survive an undead army of consumers for long. Ultimately, the Survival of the Dead would mean the demise of all – humans and nonhumans alike.

So.

Are we worth saving?

You tell me.

“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.)

(More…)

Liam Neeson is a Fooking Wanker

Monday, January 26th, 2009 by

Crossposted from V for Vegan.

Liam Neeson was on The Daily Show Thursday in order to promote his latest movie, Taken (which – and it pains me to admit this after sitting through his idiocy – doesn’t look half bad). In case you hadn’t heard, Neeson recently penned a letter to the New York City (City?) Council in opposition to recent legislation which would ban the horse carriage “biz” in NYC.*

Host Jon Stewart begins the interview by asking about Neeson’s efforts to “save” New York City’s carriage horses. By “save,” I mean continue to enslave and exploit. It’s tradition, dontchaknow!

Cue the stupid:
 

 
While I’ve enjoyed TDS off and on for years, I’ve always found Stewart’s interview skills to be, shall we say, somewhat lacking. And yet, with only a minimal grasp of the issues – and playing the most amiable Devil’s Advocate ever – Jon p0wns Liam. He offers up the rather commonsense observation that the horses would probably be happier in a more pastoral setting (as opposed to the stables next to his studio), where they’d be able to roam free without worrying about dodging NYC traffic. How about we build a home for the horses in Central Park, where citizens can “enjoy” them in a more natural environment, he suggests? A nice “compromise,” no?

In response, Neeson insists that the horses are treated well, blah blah blah, it would be irresponsible to lay off 400 workers while the economy’s in the toilet, yada yada yada, insert your standard appeals to tradition here, and – here’s the kicker – the horses actually prefer working a 9 to 5 job and spending all their off time confined to tiny little prison cells! They’ve been bred over thousands of years to love the city life! They get holidays off, yo! Hey, those stables are so clean and warm and comfy, I’d even live there, Neeson cries with glee.

Honestly, he comes off as borderline batshit.

Post-interview, Jon works in a nice little stab at Neeson’s expense. It’s not on the Moment of Zen video clip (damn you, Stewart!), but it involves a joke about Monday’s guest, Jimmy Carter, who’ll be coming out in favor of horse meat sandwiches.

Notes

* When it’s you vs. Alec Baldwin, and Alec Baldwin looks like the sane, kind, compassionate party in the dispute…well, that’s not a good sign, brother.

(Clip from the January 22, 2009 show.)