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December 16, 2011

Animals and me

I am not a fan of violence, even of the fake kind in films and TV. I do not seek violence out and an advisory on a film that it contains a lot of it is enough to make me want to give it a miss. I never watch any films in the slasher/horror genre. But I can stomach film violence if I have to. I have seen my share of cinematic deaths and injury and bloodshed and survived, and usually forget about them soon afterwards. In more mainstream films, if there is a violent scene or two and I can anticipate one coming, I can turn away. I recently saw the trilogy of films that began with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and although they had some pretty rough stuff from time to time, I enjoyed the films enough that I could get through those scenes.

Sometimes it is too much, though. The film Pulp Fiction sickened me because the violence seemed just gratuitous and turned me off Quentin Tarantino films forever. I also went to see the film The Cook, the Thief, his Wife, and her Lover which had some pretty gross scenes early on which I sat through but towards the end it was so clear that it was heading towards a ghastly denouement and I simply got up and left, the only time that I have actually left a movie theater before the end.

But there is something that I cannot stand and that is violence towards animals. Any hint that animals are going to be shown treated cruelly is enough to ruin the film for me. Even the portrayal of the natural death of an animal upsets me. If animals have to die, I definitely want them to die peacefully and off-screen. This is true even in books. I read a novel some years ago that had one scene in which a dog is treated cruelly. That scene remains in my mind long after the rest of the novel has been forgotten.

In nature films, the only animal video clips I will watch or link to are those with happy outcomes but even then there are limits. Sometime ago, a blog reader sent me a link to a video clip of a baby wildebeest in the wild that was being dragged underwater by crocodiles until it was saved by the collective action of the herd. It was a happy ending but watching the baby struggling for survival was too much for me to watch again and I never linked to it.

The funny thing is that I am not an animal lover, as the term is popularly understood. I did not even have a pet as a child nor do I recall ever asking for one. The first dog in my life arrived when I was over forty years of age and I consented only because my children's pleas for one finally overcame my strenuous objections. I definitely do not gush over animals. When I encounter them, I treat them as I would when I meet children for the first time, friendly but keeping a slight distance. I do not rescue strays, visit and help out at animal shelters, join organizations dedicated to protecting them, or do any of the countless other things that true animal lovers would do. I even eat meat, despite knowing of the widespread use of horrendous factory farming practices in the US. And yet, news items about people treating animals badly fill me with rage against the perpetrators.

Quite a few of my loved ones have died and I know that many others in my life that I am fond of may die before me. While the prospect makes me sad, I can still think of it without becoming too upset. But I cannot bear to even contemplate the death of my dog. The thought fills me with such dread that I resolutely push it out of my mind. Even writing these words cause me discomfort.

I have tried and failed to explain this seemingly contradictory behavior on my part. The best I can come up with is that because animals are so dependent on us, and we have such power over them, treating them badly is a gross violation of our duties and obligations to them. It is like mistreating children or people who are powerless, something that also makes me really angry. There is something overwhelmingly wrong in abusing those over whom you have power.

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Comments

I agree, and no longer visit zoos for the same reason. I have come to the conclusion that animals should not be kept in cages against their will; they should be allowed to live in their natural habitat.

Posted by Norm on December 16, 2011 09:43 AM

Shalom Mano,

I have often puzzled over my reactions to violence toward humans and violence toward animals. I've never flinched at a violent injury or death of a human in a movie or on television, but the same death of an animal deeply disturbs me.

I recently watched the remake of True Grit (I saw the original with Japanese subtitles in Yokosuka, Japan, back in 1977) and enjoyed the movie until the final scenes where a horse is ridden to death. Of course I know that the horse wasn't actually abused, but just the depiction made me turn my head away.

Like you, I have no problem eating meat and I don't go out of my way to rescue strays (although growing up, most of my pets were adopted strays) but the thought of abusing an animal can cause me tear up and cause a hole in the pit of my stomach.

I've cried more over the death of a pet than I have over the deaths of any family members and I know that when my adopted canine companion Buster passes, I'll be a mess for weeks.

B'shalom,

Jeff

Posted by Jeff Hess on December 17, 2011 05:06 AM

Jeff,

I had exactly the same reaction as you to the horse's death in True Grit. For the rest of the film, I couldn't stop thinking about it and even now it spoils the film for me. Maybe the filmmakers thought it was necessary but I did not like it.

Posted by Mano on December 17, 2011 07:23 AM