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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.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Great post, Mary.

    HBO describes the documentary as a "candid and introspective look at the extreme beliefs and motives of Ingrid Newkirk…"

    Extreme beliefs… Yeah, right. Only as extreme as "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

    Anyhow, Peta has taken and is still taking the brunt of ignorance-based attacks on a movement of extreme humaneness, and they take them in stride and with a great sense of humor.

    Yet, although I can't imagine where we'd be without Peta, I've been thinking about animal rights in terms of a "trans-Peta" mindset.There's something terribly important missing in their whole "strategy" (or strategies) that needs to come from other organizations or non-organizations or social forces. They can't possibly do it alone (nor can HSUS or other organizations).

    To use an Internet/Web metaphor, Peta is still very "1.0" (one-to-many) and I'm looking for 2.0 or 3.0 (many-to-many).

    Where are you, Animal Rights 2.0? or 3.0?

    Where's the MoveOn.Org of Animal Rights?

    (P.s., Peta, if anyone is reading this in your organization: You have millions of members, why are you NOT socially-networking them to each other!! Aaarrgggh! I don't want to see another photo of a rich celebrity eating healthy; I want to meet more vegans! I want my non-vegan friends to meet more vegans! HOOK US UP!)

    November 27, 2007
  2. Leo Satter #

    I missed it the first time that it aired, but I am set to watch it today at 2 o'clock!

    I really enjoyed this post!

    Just out of curiosity….Do you know where I can get quality organic/vegan ingredients online? I am now trying to order from online stores only because of various reasons…….can you help me with any suggestions??????

    There is only one place, out of all that I have tried that really stood out for true quailty, and that is Celebrityfoods.

    If you can help me grow my list of quality services or stores, where I can buy my food, I would greatly appreciate it.

    Thank you!

    November 27, 2007
  3. Leo,

    Download the pamphlet from the post at the top of the page. There are some great resources on page 6. Note that also lists veg. stores as well as restaurants in your area.


    I was actually thinking of starting a business for the sole purpose of vegan education. No cage free eggs. Real vegan education. Maybe even a publishing company. Or an AR advocacy organization. Or maybe just a social network. I'm so busy right now but I do think this is the time to bust a move . . .

    November 27, 2007
  4. Porphyry #

    Sure, it may be argued the PETA got some vegans started.

    However, it may also be argued that PETA has delayed more people from going vegan or considering vegetarianism or entertaining any validity in animal rights. Someone could be opened minded and consider logical and rational reasons for questioning exploitation of animals, but when the loudest messenger is illogical and irrational and often outright absurd you can’t really blame someone for not absorbing or not wanting to engage what is poorly trying to be said.

    If a person does somehow interprets and understands PETA’s underlying message who can blame them for not accepting it because they don’t want to be associated with the type of people they think are the only ones advocating animal rights, “those PETA nuts.”

    November 28, 2007
  5. Roger Yates #

    "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 passage cought my eye Mary. If I may introduce a little media sociology, this is typical of mass media coverage of protest or trade unionism. First scene involves rather unruly demonstration or picket – hand-held camera, lots of movement, interviewee on the street being jostled and reacting to enviromental factors like car drivers honking their approval or otherwise. Cut to calm, quiet, corporation office or important looking laboratory. Here the atmosphere is different, controlled and apparently based on rationality. A perfect way of creating an ideological distinction between parties.

    PeTA think of themselves as expert manulators of the mass media. I don't think so… This was two days ago in the Republic of Ireland.


    December 2, 2007
  6. Thanks, Roger. When I was deciding what do do my doctoral work in, I came down to NYU's Media Ecology program ( and their Applied Linguistics program. I often think I chose poorly.

    December 2, 2007

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