The False Dichotomy II: A Brief Intro to Pervasive Speciesism in Western Entertainment
This is a sibling entry to one of our earlier posts, The False Dichotomy of Animal Welfare in Western Media
A year or so ago I remember scrolling through the popular media-sharing site Imgur and coming across a photograph that disturbed me: a live chicken posed to stand next to a featherless, headless chicken. The latter was just like those you’d buy at the grocery store, with all of the hard work and blood letting done for you.
Something within in my stomach turned, and it not only had to do with the fact that I found no humor in it’s morbidity, but also that other’s failed to find the same conclusion. Imagine if someone had posted a photograph of a live dog next to a skinned one. You probably can’t, because you don’t want to, because they are your pets and companions—they are ‘man’s best friend’ and because of that, they apparently deserve more of our respect and headline larger outlets than others. For instance, the recent headlines covering the Thai dog meat trade and Vietnamese trade (**WARNING-GRAPHIC CONTENT**) have sparked much-needed international cries from politicians and citizens and celebrities alike. Keep in mind such treament is also documented as commonplace in slaughterhouses and factory farms...but they're just chickens and cows, so no big deal, right? The bottom line: no animal deserves to be treated like that.
This idea of assigned importance to different living things is often coined as speciesism: while it’s baseline ideas have been around for ages concerning animal and human welfare, the actual word speciesism wasn’t used until the 1970s by well-renowned British psychologist and philosopher Dr Richard Ryder. It can occur in between species or even within a species, as seen with the social, political, economical, and geographical labels that we use to judge those within our own human race. Author Peter Singer also placed heavy importance on the idea in his book Animal Liberation; the term also shares its official birth during the same decade that the terms “factory-farming” and “vegan” came into the spotlight, which we are safe to assume is no coincidence.
Ultimately, speciesism goes hand-in-hand with the fact that we, as a society, become defensive or confused when confronted with hypocritical accusations on how we treat animals differently. The idea that one animal can be treated more contrarily than another has no real moral standing. However, our culture’s insincere coverage of pets versus farmed animals versus theme park animals has created a lifestyle rampant with uneven bigotry.
For example, there are endless comedy acts that stem from socially inappropriate topics or politically incorrect indecorums; I’ve heard a pastor tell hunting jokes at mass, or comedians joking about farm or hunting plights on public television, but I’ve never come across one joking about shooting and skinny a dog and eating it. And I certainly have never heard of disrespectful images of a cat or dog going viral solely for humorous comfort, such as the chicken photograph mentioned earlier.
A more recent branch off of this contradiction occurred about 3 weeks ago: my friend and I were watching a "Halloween Edition" of Chopped, a fairly entertaining reality TV show about professional chefs competing to win a show. The hitch is that they are provided with several odd ingredients that must be used in whichever dishes they present to the judges panel. In the “A Very Piggy Halloween” episode that we were watching, the mandatory ingredients included popping rocks, spices, and pig snouts. I guess it’d been a while since seeing a concrete part of a pig being sliced up, and after a few shots of the chefs showing disgusted facial expressions while hacking away at the “rubbery” (as one described it) pig snout, I couldn’t hold it in and let out my own small grunt of disgust. Surprisingly, my friend seemed to be on the exact same page, instantaneously saying, “you know, I keeping thinking…what if that were a dog snout?”. And if it were, then it wouldn’t have been on the show. But to us sitting there, it may as well have been a dog, a human, or any other animal.
The shallowest research will tell us that pigs are just as social, loyal, and even more intellectual than dogs. In fact, they are one of the smartest animals in the world. The real point is, all animals feel fear, pain, and most likely have some idea of what’s going on around them, be it shame, humiliation, or imminent death. And though they may not be able to fully comprehend what’s going on, and often find themselves the subject of a morbid yet “hilarious” photograph or reality show bit, or forced to do ludicrous entertaining tricks for a never-ending traveling circus in chains, shouldn’t that be even more reason to respect them and universally treat them with appreciation?
Instead, we pick and choose which animals aren’t worthy enough of cuteness labels or a familial place in our lives; instead we take advantage of their plight. We abuse our ethical assertion to exploit those who need our mercy the most…all for a little entertainment, all because “they aren’t our pets”. It is a shame.
But where does this all start and end? With cultured media or ourselves, or withboth? In truth, the conception no longer really matters, only the the end product does. And on the upside, through education, obligation, and choices, the way industrialization and commercialization has skewed our view on animals can be unseen.
That's not to say that everyone should and must be vegan or vegetarian—quite frankly, that’s impossible seeing as the overpopulation of humans has sadly limited the amount of land and unspoiled resources for animal populations to naturally control themselves anymore—I’m saying be that if you can, because in the end, many of us will have to be if we are to move towards a more long-term moral approach to farming. And if you for some unfathomable reason cannot, at least do what’s right and treat all animals with THE SAME respect: try not to support factory farming, zoos, circuses, false free-range farming, or anything that significantly delineates from animals being provided with the natural environment, companionship, and appreciation that they deserve. Hunt only if you must due to ovepopulation or other unforseen factors. Provide the best change you can afford, that's the least we can all do.