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On Errol Morris and Animals

I've been watching Errol Morris documentaries (/nonfiction films). On my computer, either late at night or hours before the sun rises, in the past week I've seen:
"Vernon, Florida,"
"Standard Operating Procedure,"
and "Fast, Cheap, & Out of Control."

All of the films have either an obvious theme about human and nonhuman animals or a less obvious one.

  • "Vernon, Florida," which is known to be a film about nothing (and trust me, it comes close), includes interviews with older men in a rural area of Florida who appear to have nothing better to do than hunt and kill animals. And then there's the man who keeps an opossum and a turtle in a box on his lawn. No light. Just keeps them in a box. He briefly takes them out and we see what terrible shape they are in.
So disturbing.
  • "Standard Operating Procedure" is about the scandalous treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and how the notorious photos of the prisoners and the soldiers came to be and how they came to be the undoing of some of the people involved. However, the final message is that this headline-making episode that ended military careers, destroyed lives and landed several soldiers in jail, was nothing–nothing–compared to what else was going on and for which no one was ever tried or imprisoned. While soldiers of low rank were basically scapegoated (though they by no means were innocent), the interrogators and the CIA and the generals responsible for the routine humiliation, torture and killing of "prisoners" were never even investigated.

As for animals, here's what struck me. When shown photos or asked to recall incidents when they humiliated and harmed prisoners, all of the soldiers in some way articulate the notion that "it was fun" and no harm was done and "it's not like we killed them," as if killing them is the only horrible thing they could have done. The soldiers laugh as the prisoners are in "stress positions," naked, with women's underwear over their heads. They pile them up in pyramids, naked of course. And they play nerf football around them as they're curled up, naked and terrified, on the cold prison floor.

I'm reminded of all of the footage of slaughterhouse workers laughing as they torture animals or use them as footballs or sit on them for fun or sodomize them.

If people so quickly, so easily humiliate and harm nonhuman animals in certain situations, I'm not so sure why I was so shocked that they'd do the same to human animals.

Morris is famous for having his interviewees speak to the camera without interruption. And it's amazing what people say when you don't interrupt them. I wouldn't say any of these films is easy to watch, but, perhaps with the exception of "Vernon, Florida," which most people would find innocuous but which nauseated me, I recommend watching them because they do actually inform.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Nella #

    SOP was pretty good, obviously disturbing but full of insights into those people's minds. I watched FCOOC years ago because of the circus thing, and remember being rather pissed off by it since it seemed unnecessarily positive and uncritical about the circus guy when the footage they showed of him was also pretty disturbing.

    November 7, 2008

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