On “I Am An Animal”
I watched "I Am An Animal" on HBO this weekend (and the "a" in "an" is capitalized in some places, and not in others across the various sites that refer to the film, and may I just say that drove me nuts), and if I were Ingrid Newkirk I wouldn’t be pleased (and in some interview footage, she indeed did question decisions about what to include or exclude, and what to shoot or not).
Here are my thoughts:
- Newkirk does clearly state that she is interested in animal rights (as in, abolition), but the way the film plays out makes her look a bit unstable. For me, this was not a sympathetic portrayal of a woman passionate about helping animals.
- Why not? Because it played into every stereotype the mainstream world now holds about animal rights activists: that we’re crazy, misanthropic and maybe even criminals. This was achieved solely through choice of footage. While PeTA people are doing their stupid human tricks, the scientists and detractors are perfectly quaffed, well dressed and sound like any "expert" you’d see on the evening news.
- This film, whether it over-concentrates on the stunts or not, however, also contains every reason I don’t support PeTA anymore, such as: I don’t want my money going to those stunts. More important, though, is that there are a couple of times where some voice of reason comes on the scene and states the real goal of PeTA ("total animal liberation," as Newkirk says), and rather than exploring how that idea might actually be a perfectly sane one, and in fact a simple matter of justice, we are whisked back to more images of media-seeking mayhem. The real point (for me) is not only left in the background, it is associated with lunacy. It’s PeTA’s nefarious, secret mission (meanwhile it’s one of the first things Newkirk says in the film). The juxtaposition of images and words presents the abolitionist message as something to fear. I am being kind to Newkirk when I say this is a problem created by the filmmaker. But it’s actually a problem created by PeTA, and the filmmaker was simply doing what PeTA does: take a legitimate message and dump crazy all over it.
- Moderately off topic: I don’t understand why it’s such a big deal that a slaughterhouse worker sexually molested a turkey or sat on one. Those people are there, by definition, to do horrible things to sentient beings. What’s completely unconscionable is that it’s considered cruelty to molest a turkey or throw her against a wall but it’s NOT considered cruel to de-toe her or cram her in a tiny space in her own urine and feces and then slaughter her. Torture in the direct service of providing unnecessary food is okay, but torture for fun is called cruelty. If I ever have a child, how am I going to explain that one?
- I’m sure thousands of people have gone vegan because of PeTA. For some people, they’re doing everything right. The pushing of the envelope, in the way that it’s done, is okay with them. But it’s not okay with me because I have to constantly distance myself from them and spend time explaining that not every vegan is a member of PeTA or agrees with their tactics or their platform (like the killing of healthy animals or the negotiating with exploiters to help them "produce" animal products for a premium).
PeTA has indeed put us all on the map, but that is now a mixed blessing.