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Death? Hilarious! – Animal cruelty videos and practical jokes

December 12, 2015

There’s been a rise on Facebook and associated websites of what I’ll call “the cutesy animal bait-n-switch”. This is where someone uploads a video or anecdote featuring animals that promises to be cute or heartwarming, and then shocks the viewer or reader by leading onto something violent.

The first example of this was a fictional story about a man and his relationship with an elephant. It was a long anecdote, something someone had clearly put work into making up. It had all the indicators of being one of those shamelessly heartwarming stories, but at the end, the elephant killed the man for no reason. The point, by the admission of the person who wrote it, was to “teach” (read: “punish”) all the people who make and share genuine heartwarming stories about the relationship between people and animals.

My initial reaction was one of incredulity. I wondered how it could be that a person was so irrationally annoyed by this, that he would go to such lengths to teach us all a lesson. It rang loudly of the aggressive denial vegans are all too used to seeing in meat-eaters; so incensed that anyone should dare suggest that any being other than humans is capable of emotional connection, they will go to any lengths to ignore and discredit the assertion. The writer of that story was telling us, in no uncertain terms, to shut up, to leave him alone, to let him hold his delusions in peace. He doesn’t care about animals and their emotions, and he doesn’t want to care. End of.

Imagine if he was referring to humans. If the same individual had written a piece about a relationship between, say, a Syrian child and an American solider, then ended it with one shooting the other. There would be outcry. People would say, rightly, that it was at best callous and at worst totally psychotic, seeming to draw pleasure off of imagining tragedy and misfortune – and gaining pleasure from other people’s nauseated reaction to it.

Any counter argument that The World shouldn’t bother him with stories about the crisis in Syria, and that our shock and horror is therefore all our own fault, would obviously go down like a tonne of bricks. We expect people to care about things that matter, and we don’t expect them to fight tooth and nail to be allowed to ignore whatever is an inconvenient or uncomfortable truth; not, at least, when it involves humans.

In all likelihood, a lot of people won’t like that comparison. They’ll think that it matters more because it concerns humans and it concerns wars, and things which people have to care about. They may overlook the fact that for a long-time vegetarian, the battle against a long injustice against animals is like a war, or at least a drawn-out civil protest which too many people are ignoring. The question of how much animals feel seems to me to be very important; integral, in fact, to the most tentative of discussions about whether animals have rights, and if so which animals and which rights. When people won’t listen to anecdotes that suggest in animals characteristics we have arrogantly assumed to be uniquely human, we can never establish how important a discussion it is.

Also, it is not true to say that human beings universally disregard animals and their suffering. Our response to them tends to be more inconsistent. Recently, I encountered another cutesy animal bait-n-switch, this time much more graphic. The caption said “This chicken is so cute!” and then the short video clip showed an anonymous hand shooting the chicken dead, mid-prance. Disturbingly enough, a lot of people Liked and shared this video. They had found it funny. I considered attempting to find a similar video of a puppy getting shot in the head and posting it as a reply, but I didn’t think my stomach was up to it.

Besides which, I doubt I could if I tried; such a video is almost certainly going to be flagged and blocked by YouTube. In a classic example of speciesism, no one would stand for it. No one would find it funny if it was a dog. Or a hamster, or a guinea pig, or any pet animal that we have accepted into the privileged but arbitrarily drawn ranks of Pet Animal, considered companions to be respected, not food items to be ridiculed in life then bluntly killed.

Speciesism is not the only inconsistency of thought. The cognitive dissonance runs so deep, that the manner of death matters as much as the species. I could also have posted slaughterhouse footage, but again I didn’t think I was up to it – though this time, because of the flame war I would inevitably start. No doubt, I would be the bad guy if I started posting videos of a disgusting truth alongside this jolly and good-natured video of a chicken being shot dead for shits and giggles. Hopefully, the point of doing so would at least be clear; it should encourage people to ask themselves: how funny is death? Why is it funny? In what way?

My feelings about this video hasn’t so much to do with a chicken getting shot. They get killed constantly and in far worse ways than what I saw. What depresses me is the mass lack of engagement by all the thousands of people who find the video amusing. I’m pretty sure it isn’t the death of the chicken that’s causing the laughter; it’s the effect it may be having upon people with sensibilities about the matter. People are laughing because it is a cruel joke. They are laughing, heartily and knowingly, at the expense of people who happen to disagree with them on what is a moral and political point.

Imagine now, any other similarly targeted bait-n-switch. A video labelled “This heartwarming display of interracial tolerance could teach us all something,” which led to a video of a black teenager being beaten to a pulp by a white police officer. If it’s hard to imagine anyone doing such a thing, it’s because you’ve recognised the extreme nature of it. I have picked a universally accepted aspect of morality to illustrate the point.

I find that, if I don’t, people have trouble understanding my point. “But they’re animals! It doesn’t matter!” they say, not realising that other people could (and do) substitute the word “animals” for other words – homophobic words, racist words, xenophobic words, anti-Islamic words – to illustrate the same point under a different prejudice. In the end, it is not for you to decide what matters. We have to jointly agree that if it matters to some, that consideration should be respected by all even if it is not understood. Else, we will never know how wrong we are about any social issue. Plugging our fingers in our ears and ridiculing people who disagree with us is the surest way to make sure we won’t learn.

I suggest that morality is subjective and thus requires a level of empathy and courtesy – even if you don’t agree with someone, you should be able to recognise when you’re being an ass. I do not agree with lesbian-feminist-separatism. I doubt it’s good for the individuals, or society. But I cringe at the idea that I would make an article or video baiting someone who believed in it into looking at my fiction, and then openly mocking them for it – especially by the use of expressing violent thought or feeling.

It’s not the way I choose to construct debate; it’s a cowardly, passive-aggressive way of making your opinion known so indirectly, no one can take you up on it. The use of violence is no accident, either. We know that renders the most powerful negative response. More, it creates a fear response. When we disagree with someone and we consider them to be a threat to our way of doing things, we gravitate towards expressions of violence, indirect as they may be.

As a vegan and an animal lover, I get punished for my morals at every turn with snide remarks and nasty pranks like this. I am constantly called upon to be on the defensive and to justify what I think as though it’s some kind of extreme view that will incite others to Evil Ways, while all around me “normal” people laugh at death, dangle it in my face and call me a wimp for feeling nauseous about it. It isn’t the death that’s making me nauseous. It’s the knowledge that humans can be so vile, and behave “like animals”… Yet still, somehow, consider themselves superior to them.

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From → Animal Rights

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