Sunday, November 18, 2007

I Am An Animal

If I were to choose just one word to describe Ingrid Newkirk's activism for animal rights as depicted in HBO's I Am An Animal it would be passion. As a Hindu, I find it relatively easy to understand her central message; to feel a sense of oneness with animals because they are sentient beings just like humans. There is no "us" and "them", everyone and everything in the universe is intimately linked. Their pain and suffering is no less or trivial than ours. Therefore, the controversial parallels between the holocaust and the slaughter house in PETA's campaign literature.

Watching this movie, just before Thanksgiving definitely makes the act of buying turkey for dinner distasteful to say the least. Somewhere between the horrors of the slaughter house depicted in gruesome detail in this movie and the high resolution images of braised chicken with rosemary in Food and Wine magazine, the plight of the helpless animal is lost on the average consumer. When they pick up their skinless, boneless chicken breast from their local grocery store, they are not able to connect their purchase to the unspeakable cruelty that went to make it available to them in its convinient and sanitized form. The process washes its many sins and omissions and presents an end product that looks beyond reproach.

I can vouch for the shock factor of animal activism literature from personal experience. I was once handed a flyer at a metro station in DC with pictures and statistics about living conditions of chicken. After that, I could not see chicken in any shape or form without having a horrifying flashback. For months thereafter, I did not buy, eat or cook poultry.In time the impression wore off and I returned to my old habits.

Newkirk is probably right in trying to jolt people out of insensitivity. Instead of vandalizing a Gaultier shop window in Paris, PETA may get more bang for their buck if they handed out their material to the Wal-Mart shopper on the way in. That the organization does not use its substantial clout and ability to whip up controversy to create an impact where it would be most immediately realized makes you wonder about Newkirk's real agenda. Does she really care about animals or is she a personality cult who wants to go down the annals of history ?

Maybe Priscilla Feral is right is saying : They [PETA] have trivialized animal rights. They have exploited racism, and women in campaigns, using people as props to project animal rights, and you can't do that. You can't sensationalize an issue involving a lot of pain, a racist issue for example, and expect to advance an ethical cause in doing so. The means don't justify the ends."

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