Posts Tagged ‘speciesism’

Penelope: A Nose by Any Other Name

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010 by

I’m tickled pink (pun so intended!) to present POP!’s very first guest post, a vegan-feminist look at the 2006 romantic comedy Penelope from Shannon Davis, aka Vegan Burnout. Based on a Marilyn Kaye novel of the same name, the film stars a (be-snouted) Christina Ricci as the titular Penelope, a young woman seemingly born into wealth and privilege – save for her “unfortunate” porcine nose. Would it trouble the reader to know that, as a child, I longed for a cat tail, à la Catra? Beauty conventions and species boundaries, who needs ’em!? – Kelly G.
 

Cover artwork for the novel PENELOPE

Caution: Spoilers ahead!

Sexism and speciesism go together like, well, movies and popcorn. Carol J. Adams wrote the book on this nasty little tag-team, and I for one am a smarter consumer of pop culture for it. I also love movies and popcorn, so imagine my surprise when, one snowy afternoon, I watched Penelope and found my vegan-feminist Spidey Sense a-tingle.

Penelope stars Christina Ricci as an otherwise gorgeous girl born with a pig’s nose as the result of an old family curse. (Women! pigs! obvious! parallel!) The curse, of course, can only be broken by the love of “one of her own kind”—unanimously interpreted to mean that of another aristocrat. Already, we have all the elements of a fairy tale—the perfect lens for examining cultural notions of beauty and self-love.

Penelope’s parents are a study in contrasts: her father, Franklin (Richard E. Grant), guiltily accepts responsibility for Penelope’s “disfigurement,” as his side of the family bears the curse; her mother, Jessica (Catherine O’Hara), is so terrified of what people will say that she fakes baby Penelope’s death to deter snooping reporters. She is so obsessed by her daughter’s nose that she bans anything pig-related, scolding Jake the butler when he plays “This Little Piggy” with the baby’s toes and forbidding her husband to eat bacon. Any notion of her daughter as animal is anathema to her—we’re meant to understand that she means well, but her fixation reveals far more about her than it does about Penelope.

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Bob Woodruff on boiling humans.

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009 by

Crossposted from V for Vegan.

Journalist Bob Woodruff made an appearance on The Daily Show last night in order to promote his latest project, Earth 2100:
 

 

I find it interesting that Stewart and Woodruff open the discussion with a clip of Earth 2100 that invokes the anecdote of the frog submerged in a pot of boiling water: namely, if you put a frog in a pot of water that’s already boiling, she’ll jump right out, having sensed the heat and danger. But if you place her in a pot of cold or lukewarm water and gradually raise the temperature, she’s none the wiser, and will remain in the deathtrap until she becomes frog soup. In this metaphor, humans are the frogs, and the pot is earth.

Which is all fine and good, except according to Snopes, this is a folk tale:

Like a fable, the “boiled frog” anecdote serves its purpose whether or not it’s based upon something that is literally true. But it is literally true? Not according to Dr. Victor Hutchison, a Research Professor Emeritus from the University of Oklahoma’s Department of Zoology, whose research interests include “the physiological ecology of thermal relations of amphibians and reptiles to include determinations of the factors which influence lethal temperatures, critical thermal maxima and minima, thermal selection, and thermoregulatory behavior”:

“The legend is entirely incorrect! The ‘critical thermal maxima’ of many species of frogs have been determined by several investigators. In this procedure, the water in which a frog is submerged is heated gradually at about 2 degrees Fahrenheit per minute. As the temperature of the water is gradually increased, the frog will eventually become more and more active in attempts to escape the heated water. If the container size and opening allow the frog to jump out, it will do so.”

The “boiled frog” legend is a ubiquitous one – one that, given its falsehood, is both speciesist and completely inappropriate for what I assume is supposed to be a scientific documentary. The latter point is a given, but allow me to explain the former: central to the anecdote’s premise is the idea that a frog is so utterly stupid that, given subtle but entirely discernible cues, “it” would remain oblivious to the increasing danger and allow “itself” to be boiled alive. “Let’s not be like those lesser animals!” the tale cautions. Except. In denying climate change and poo-pooing slight increases in average global temperatures as “insignificant,” the human species is actually exhibiting less sense than Dog gave a frog. The frog isn’t earth’s complacent village idiot – we are.

Also of note: Jon alludes to the presumed vivisection which led to the “discovery” that frogs might allow themselves to be boiled alive, given the right circumstances. Both Stewart and Woodruff appear to think that such gruesome experiments probably took place years ago, in the distant past. Except.

“The legend is entirely incorrect! The ‘critical thermal maxima’ of many species of frogs have been determined by several investigators. In this procedure, the water in which a frog is submerged is heated gradually at about 2 degrees Fahrenheit per minute. As the temperature of the water is gradually increased, the frog will eventually become more and more active in attempts to escape the heated water. If the container size and opening allow the frog to jump out, it will do so.”

While I can’t locate citations for these experiments, Wiki suggests that they’re more recent debunkings of “research” performed in the late 1800s (“research” on which the legend is apparently based).

So, yeah, we boil frogs alive – or attempt to, anyway. And that’s not even the worst of it.

Anyhow, back to Earth 2100.

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They’re made out of…meat.

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009 by

Crossposted from V for Vegan.

Mylène @ My Face Is On Fire recently wrote about scifi author Terry Bisson’s 1991 short story “They’re Made Out of Meat,” which she noted, “provides an interesting twist on how most humans view animals.”

Wiki’s entry is on the story is rather short (but then, so’s the story!) – and contains spoilers – so if you’d rather be surprised, skip right on down to the video and press play before reading further. The running time is 7 1/2 minutes, but it’s worth every second.

They’re Made Out of Meat is a Nebula Award-nominated short story by Terry Bisson. It was originally published in OMNI. It consists entirely of dialogue between two characters, and Bisson’s website hosts a theatrical adaptation. A film adaptation won the Grand Prize at the Seattle Science Fiction Museum’s 2006 film festival.

(The aforementioned award-winning short is what I’ve embedded below.)

The two characters are sentient beings capable of traveling faster than light, on a mission to “contact, welcome and log in any and all sentient races or multibeings in this quadrant of the Universe.” Bisson’s stage directions represent them as “two lights moving like fireflies among the stars” on a projection screen. They converse briefly on their bizarre discovery of carbon-based life, which they refer to incredulously as “thinking meat.” They agree to “erase the records and forget the whole thing,” marking the Solar System “unoccupied.”

Interestingly, the only link listed under “See also” is “Carbon chauvinism“:

Carbon chauvinism is a relatively new term meant to disparage the assumption that extraterrestrial life will resemble life on Earth. In particular, it would be applied to those who assume that the molecules responsible for the chemical processes of life must be constructed primarily from carbon. It suggests that, as carbon-based life forms who have never encountered any life that has evolved outside the earth’s environment, human beings may find it difficult to envision radically different biochemistries. The term was used as early as 1973, when Carl Sagan described it and other human chauvinisms that limit imagination of possible extraterrestrial life in his Cosmic Connection.

From there, you can go to “Anthropocentrism,” “Chauvinism,” “Chemical evolution,” “Carbon-based life,” and “They’re Made Out of Meat.”

I always found our humanoid conceptions of aliens life forms to be unreal and egotistical, but never considered it a form of prejudice. But yeah, “carbon chauvinism” (carbonism?) sounds about right. How fitting, then, that “anthropocentrism” (which links to “speciesism”) is referenced in the entry.

Anyhow, this short adaptation of “They’re Made Out of Meat” is really well done, and – if you’re so predisposed (read: intellectually honest) – the themes can equally be applied to our treatment of non-human animals.

See also: Damon Knight’s “To Serve Man.”
 


 
If you can’t view the video above – or, if you can but would like to read the story as well – it’s available in multiple places online; Google “They’re Made Out of Meat” or try this link, for starters.

Many thanks to Mylène for the video!

Truth in Advertising: HUMANS ARE AMONG US!

Thursday, February 19th, 2009 by

Crossposted from V for Vegan.

This series of retro ’50s monster movie poster adverts for the SciFi Channel has little to do with animal advocacy – but why let a lil’ thing like that stop me from putting an animal-friendly spin on ’em?

Each “poster” depicts an iconic movie monster recoiling in horror as a human invades his space:

Sci Fi Channel - The Thing

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So, Shane and I saw Transformers today…

Sunday, August 5th, 2007 by

Crossposted from V for Vegan.

…and the early battle scenes in Qatar? In poor taste, to say the least. Watching American soldiers and Middle Easterners being blown to smithereens isn’t so much entertaining as it is depressing.

Also depressing was this statement, part of Optimus Prime’s endless moralizing: “All sentient beings deserve freedom”. (Or perhaps it was more along the lines of “All sentient being deserve the right to live”…I forget now.) Really? All sentient beings? Because, like, “sentient” isn’t codeword for “human+”.

Sentience refers to utilization of sensory organs, the ability to feel or perceive subjectively, not necessarily including the faculty of self-awareness. The possession of sapience is not a necessity. The word sentient is often confused with the word sapient, which can connote knowledge, consciousness, or apperception.

Sadly, and despite the obvious implications of such an animal-friendly statement, Transformers was hardly a pro-AR movie. On the contrary; one of Optimus Prime’s cronies (you know, the “good” “guys”) wanted to kill a dog (which he* saw as evidence of a “rodent infestation”) for pissing on his foot. Uh, yeah, maybe y’all should modify that statement to “All sapient beings…” I hate to break it to the screenwriters, but dogs are sentient, you dumbasses.

The effects were pretty cool, though.

* Though Shane doth protest, the Transformers are all clearly uber-masculine entities. Androgynous they aint.