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An Uphill Battle: The False Dichotomy of Animal Welfare in Western Media

If you've been following the news closely, you may have heard of the (most likely forced) resignation of Des Hague, the multi-million dollar CEO of Centerplate’s billion-dollar international food service corporation. The resignation came following a communication fusillade from mass social media outcry, which peaked within just 5 days of major American and Canadian news outlets picking up the story.

And in case you missed it, the vilification of Hague stemmed from a viral video which shows him callously kicking a puppy that’s laying down in an elevator, before attempting to hang it in the air by its collar and leash. Initially, Centerplate distanced themselves from Hague’s “personal issue”, publishing a press release which placed him on probation, ordered him to seek therapy, to apply hours towards community service, and pay a drop-in-the-bucket charitable fine of $100,000.

News outlets—many of which had already run the original story—quickly outsourced the company statement, and many shared it with the intent of its readers communicating their disdain with Centerplate. Sports Illustrated, whose staff writer Geroge Dohrman took a strong stance against Centerplate and Hague, urged readers to avoid watching the video due to its spite, but to still stand up against the evidenced abuse: “[b]ut just because you don’t watch the video doesn’t mean you should not be outraged, and it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do something.” In addition, ESPN, Huffington Post, and countless other major and local news stations (many of whose local stadiums are serviced by Centerplate) picked up the story as it seemed relevant.

As Hague’s incident spread, so did indignation among the general population. People focused on what the media gave them: a man abusing a dog, whose business thrived because of us. However, with almost any viewed animal abuse, there is a business that thrives from it...whether it be a social, political, environmental, or economical aspect, there’s always someone to stop, and there’s always a cause to rally for. Yet, we are constantly communicating that there are some injustices more deserving of attention than others.

I’m sure you know what I’m referring to…an endless sea of petitions, abuse videos, photographs, and status updates. But what might determine the success and failure of a social media campaign?

Compared to normal animal abuse videos and their conjoined petitions, Hague’s actions and his corporation’s subsequent response—combined with its heavy media coverage and emphatic tie-in with major sports teams—cultivated a swifter, more instantaneous effect, all within just days of it’s birth.

Take, for example, this petition and video of a Russian circus attendant blatantly (and tragically) abusing a monkey. It’s been internationally circulating for nearly 10 months, and has 16,000 signatures.

In comparison, on Friday, August 29th the petition to have Hague fired had already garnered around 30,000 signatures. That was only 3 days after its creation. By Monday, September 1st, the petition had over 170,000 signatures, combined with thousands expressing outrage on the Centerplate social media sites, news sites, and personal sites. I even went to the facebook page of the Mile-High Stadium, home to [my] local Denver Broncos. Word had spread that Centerplate supplied them, and, sure enough, people had commented on the Mile-High page regarding the animal abuse. This isn’t a Broncos player, or the head of the stadium that’s being hassled over, it’s foreign CEO of the stadium’s catering company. It really can’t get more obscure than that. Don’t get me wrong— it is a beautiful thing to witness the power of the people against a corporation, and see the difference it can make.

Generally, when any news outlet chooses to air a human or animal abuse case, it’s based off of two moral taglines: good or bad. And as you’d probably guess, our media tends to always push abuse in a negative light; as something that our old-world, neanderthal morals should uphold, but are still in the process of fully evolving towards. Essentially, we are told that the ill treatment of animals is unacceptable.

But if we take a closer look, the media is actually fantasizing to us that it takes the high road in these circumstances. In actuality, the news is creating a third gray area in between the two sides of animal abuse. By systematically picking and choosing which types of animal abuses are principal to our viewing and which ones aren’t, they often seem to cover animal abuse stories tif they meet one or more of the following criteria (if the story doesn’t, then often the abuse case will not be “good enough” to consider specific coverage):

  • Social media outrage, such as the Brooklyn cat-kicking video or the tortured turtle video

  • Proximity: local and national ties

  • Status: high title or celebrity

  • Animals that are ‘considered’ pets: Cats, Dogs, etc

  • An easy, memory-inducing trigger, such as “Big vs small”, such as a wealthy delegate vs injured or defenseless animal, or Blackfish: corporation vs defenseless animal

  • Novelty: something we don’t commonly hear about or see

  • Conflict: When Centerplate failed to initially fire their CEO, the story spread even more.

And so what of the millions of animals that Centerplate treats horribly via the factory farms that fulfill their services to our stadiums? That is, after all, far surpassing as the ‘Blackfish’ of agronomic farming. Or what about the disturbing video of an Indiana police officer abusing his K-9 German Shephard because he, like Hague, thought no one was watching? Yet he received no legal or professional penance. Why is it that some instances of rampant animal abuse never seem to make our mass conscience and our media outlets bat an eye?

The answer is that it most likely has to do with the fact that widespread agriculture, animal-based materialism, and animal-based entertainment that’s prevalent in this country has more political, social, and economical red tape than you could ever imagine. And unless enough Americans become active without the media’s help, it’s usually a far cry to hope that significant change can be made or justice sought.

I’m not saying that the Centerplate incident wasn’t as important as any other case, I’m asking: why isn’t every other case treated as importantly as that one? It’s worth noting that the Centerplate petition was the first one (to my knowledge) I’ve ever signed. I posted it to my Facebook and shared it, and even followed the story mercilessly until it reached it’s end. I consider myself a general advocate of animal and human rights—which is not to say I wouldn’t write a sistering article on this topic in regards to human rights—but for some reason I was moved to petition this one incident, as opposed to the other hundreds of videos, articles, and legitimate abuse petitions that I’ve previously encountered.

I understand that we can’t expect to sign every petition or to have every issue to be in the spotlight, but I think a lot of us choose to ignore supporting many of them for the completely wrong reasons. Once I realized this, it baffled me. It also made me question my stance on animal equality, understandably.

So out of every issue that I could have shown more support for, why did I choose Centerplate? Personally, I find it to be a combination of the above list. It was painful and shocking of course, but it also had local ties. Furthermore, I believe that the story was very relatable for my friends who don’t share my universal views towards animals; whether it be sports, having a dog as a pet, or being anti-corporate, this story seemed to resonate with the general public on many levels. It was my bandwagon…and there’s probably much more to the psychology of it than this, but either way, I subconsciously got immersed in the multi-faceted story.

According to a recent Washington Post study, it can be estimated that approximately 60 percent of Americans are willing to protest strongly about important issues to them. While I came up empty after a short-lived search for percentages that actually do protest, I would imagine it’s significantly less. It could also be (loosely) assumed that the reasons why most do or do not actually end up protesting are similar to the list provided.

I guess what I’m saying is, we need to dissolve this grey area of socio-journalistic activism, of the sea within our seas. It’s clear that the power of the pen is real if the pieces fall into place…but for most injustices, we don’t need each piece to see the entire picture or to push the perfect story: we already know it is a wrong, and we can still have the power. And so, I ask, next time we sign or ignore a petition, don’t ask yourself why you are signing it—because the core to that is simple—but ask, “why am I not signing others?”.

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