Posts Tagged ‘working animals’

“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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