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The Animal Person Minute: On “Year of the Dog”


Today’s photo is of my niece Grace at the wedding I went to outside of Asheville, North Carolina last weekend. It was at a ranch and I was bracing for the worst and was pleasantly surprised. Though there were horses walking around on one side of the lake and longhorns strolling on the other, all of whom I tried not to think too much about, that was the worst of it (and yes, I did have a nightmare or two about the end all of the animals will meet when they aren’t as healthy and gorgeous as they are now).

"Today’s topic is the portrayal of vegans in "Year of the Dog," which I pondered seeing when it came out, but there are live animals in the film and I do my best to avoid animals in entertainment. PETA doesn’t think animals are ours to use, yet teamed up extensively to promote the film, so I figured there must be an important message that makes the use of the animals okay. I didn’t find that to be the case.

Next, the film was written by Mike White, who calls himself an "erstwhile vegan." He’s a vegan who eats fish, so basically he’s not just not a vegan, but not even a vegetarian. And maybe that’s why he presents vegans in an unfavorable light. To be fair, he presents everyone in an unfavorable light. I couldn’t find one character whom I actually liked.

Here’s the problem, the main character played by Molly Shannon, is one of those people whom we’ve all met who sort of comes undone when she learns about the cruelty involved in the various ways we use animals. I don’t think the portrayal of her is unrealistic, but with exactly zero other films featuring vegans as main characters, I would have preferred if White took this opportunity to send a message that not all people who are interested in helping animals have some kind of personality disorder. The other vegan in the film, played by Peter Sarsgaard, is White’s final opportunity to refrain from stereotypes and craft a character who is, well, anything but odd, vaguely misanthropic and unlikeable. The result was a character who is odd, vaguely misanthropic and unlikeable.

Molly Shannon’s character dips her toe into hoarding, forges checks, wants people who clearly have the inability to care for a dog to adopt one anyway, and takes her brother’s kid to a farmed animal sanctuary and then almost to a slaughterhouse. That behavior doesn’t represent us or do us any favors. It merely perpetuates stereotypes.

"Year of the Dog" may be on the mark in some respects, but if you’re a vegan–or even a pescetarian–I can’t imagine you’d be pleased with this film.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. emily #

    As another perspective:

    September 18, 2007
  2. There were certainly many realistic moments in the film and I don't think the characters were unlike some vegans I know. White definitely gets points for realism. But because we're so infrequently portrayed on the big screen, I would've liked to see the positive aspects and the reality that vegans aren't all eccentric and prickly. Though every vegan will relate to the film, when I look at it objectively, I'm not a fan of the way we were portrayed. I wouldn't come away thinking being vegan is easy or pleasant, or that it's possible to live a mainstream life and be a vegan (not that that's desirable, but it's what I've chosen).

    September 18, 2007
  3. Becci #

    I found Year of the Dog entertaining, but in terms of how it portrayed the characters, etc, I totally agree with you and was pretty disturbed when I pondered how a mainstream audience would react.

    September 20, 2007

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