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Charlotte’s Web of Denial

How could so many intelligent people miss the boat on this one? In "’Charlotte’s Web’ is a tangled labor of love" (Reuters), Larry Fine, like most people, comes up short by neglecting (or being unaware of) the web of issues regarding using animals.

Let’s deconstruct:

  • The film, which uses live animals, teaches "life lessons about mortality, the power of friendship, and the cycle of life." Hmmmm. Do you think there’s another lesson lurking in there? One that might be really difficult to see if one doesn’t have a highly-trained analytical eye? A lesson, maybe, about how animals have lives and families and personalities, just like we do, and they feel pleasure and pain just like we do, and maybe slaughtering them is a bit of an ethical dilemma? What’s this malarkey about mortality and the cycle of life? Use the words that the story describes: Is it okay to slaughter the animals?
  • Though the book was one of my favorites as a child, what I never understood, and became increasingly agitated with as I grew older, was that the only reason Wilbur has the slightest chance of surviving is because he (first through Fern, then through Charlotte) is perceived as an extra-special pig ("some pig"). This isn’t really a story about broadening your circle of compassion; it’s a story about selective affection. Some individual animals are worthy of our compassion and might be saved, probably because they serve some function for us (as "pets"), but the rest of the pigs and geese and cows and chickens will not be saved. They are not individuals; they are resources. When we see animals as individuals, it’s more difficult to slaughter them.
  • Evidently, author E.B. White spoke of making a film of his book and wanted to make it with real animals. What a terrible idea, but that was 50 years ago and we’ll give him a free pass for that one. The director and producer of this 2006 movie, however, do not get a free pass. " I had no idea about the frustrations and patience that using real animals would entail," said director Gary Winick. The key words are "I had no idea." Clearly, Mr. Winick wasn’t thinking. Likewise, he wasn’t thinking about the effects on the 47 different pigs used to play Wilbur, when he had to spend 41 days shooting without completing one scene. There’s no mention in the article of anything but the agony of the poor director. In fact, once the human actors arrived on the set, "He was so happy to have human contact."
  • The film took 1 1/2 years to edit, and Mr. Winick said, "I gave up my life for this. I had no idea what I was in for."

Now he knows how the animals feel.

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