Saturday, March 23, 2013

Landfill Dogs

Shannon Johnstone is a Louisiana photographer and animal advocate who uses her talents to bring attention to the tragedy of America's thrown away pets. She has documented companion animals before, during, and after their euthanasia in a project called Discarded Property, and her latest project, Landfill Dogs, involves taking dogs who have been at her local shelter for more than two weeks, and who will soon face euthanasia, to the landfill where their bodies will be buried, and photographing them where they play joyfully on what may be their last excursion outside in their lives. The great news is that thanks to her talent and courage, most of the dogs Johnstone has photographed have since found homes,  and have not ended up back at the landfill.

Taxidermied Cats

Taxidermy is all the rage these days. This year we have two new reality shows focusing on taxidermy, American Stuffers and Immortalized, Etsy is full of arts and crafts made from dead animals, and artists like Sarina Brewer, Kasey McMahon, and Reid Peppard all uutilize taxidermied animals in their art.

And besides the wild animals who are typically immortalized by taxidermists, generally after they have been shot and killed by hunters, there's now a growing pet preservation industry serving pet guardians who want to forever immortalized their beloved companion animal.

And then there's this cat rug, made by a taxidermist from a cat hit and killed by a car in New Zealand.

The public response to the cat seems to range from artistic appreciation to disgust and horror, as might be expected.

For me, perhaps my concern lies with the fact that this was not simply a cat, but a cat who had a relationship with a person, and, thus, a social identity. It seems to cross the boundary between the impersonal form of taxidermy and exploitation found with bear or zebra rugs, even while maintaining the personal identity of the individual animal, a distinction noted by Emory University graduate student Christina Colvin in a recent talk on taxidermied pets. This cat once had a name, an identity, a past, and, most uncomfortably, all of that can be read in its eerily preserved, for eternity, face.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Men Come from Apes; Women Come from Cows

Image from BuzzFeed:  The 13 Worst Plastic Surgery Ads in the World

This advertisement for a plastic surgery clinic in Bucharest plays on the classic image of man evolving from ape.  That image has long been criticized for normalizing "man" as the epitome of evolution (What about women?  Or people of color for that matter?).  This image feeds into the sexist undertones of the evolutionary story by showing us where women come from:  ugly cows.

Image from Skeptical Raptor

The cow is laden with symbolism--they are seen as unintelligent commodities in need of husbandry (similar to how women are perceived).  Of course, women are often insulted in being labeled a cow--something ugly and undesirable to men.  Comparison to the ape, on the other hand, tends to be more flattering, as apes are often seen as clever, adaptive, and independent.  They're also seen as the most human of the "animal kingdom."  When being "human" generally defaults to being "male," these images clarify that men are privileged and women must manipulate their sexual desirability to achieve social worth.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Intersecting Oppression in Early Animal Rights Efforts

I'm not sure what the context of this image is, but it was posted by No Kill advocate Nathan Winograd today in honor of the 125th anniversary of Henry Bergh's death.  Bergh was a tireless advocate for exploited and ignored Nonhuman Animals in urban areas.

Notice the African American man in the right hand side of the crowd.  He appears to be gesturing in support of Bergh's attention to the horses.  According to the notes at the bottom, this drawing appeared in Harper's Weekly.  Judging from the dress and the time when Bergh became active for Nonhuman Animals, this scene would have transpired just after the emancipation of African American slaves.

It is likely that the artist intended to demonstrate how Nonhuman Animal suffering mirrored the suffering of many humans.  Indeed, many early Nonhuman Animal activists drew heavily on the claimsmaking of the abolitionist anti-slavery cause, recognizing how oppression worked similarly across many vulnerable groups.

See Diane L. Beers.  2006.  For the Prevention of Cruelty:  The History and Legacy of Animal Rights Activism in the United States.  Athens, OH:  Ohio University Press.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Framing a Story

According to today's Merced Sun-Star"The big rig carrying a load of turkeys overturned near Le Grand, knocking power lines down, the California Highway Patrol reports...It does not appear anyone was injured in the accident. Firefighters and Pacific Gas & Electric employees are responding for the power lines and Foster Farms has been called for the turkeys."

The same story was covered very differently by Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary, a farmed animal sanctuary in Central California whose volunteers raced to the scene of the accident to try to help save the injured turkeys. They reported on their Facebook page, "We spoke with California Highway Patrol officers and offered immediate rescue assistance for the injured turkeys at the crash site. CHP denied our offer to help."

Later, Harvest Home posted the following picture, along with the following: "The crash site is cleared. All that remains is blood, feathers and dirt on the roadside. The bird 'survivors' were hauled to Foster Farms' turkey slaughterhouse in Turlock to be killed later today."

I was struck by how radically different the newspaper--and how the Merced Sun-Star treated the story was no different from every other media account today--treated the story compared to how Harvest Home did. The paper emphasized the fact that there were no (human) injuries, and that power lines were damaged. Other media accounts discussed disruptions to the morning commute. But no media story mentioned the suffering or loss of life experienced by the turkeys, or the presence of the rescue group. 

Obviously, news is created, not "reported." It's not like news is just found, like pebbles, on the ground, to be scooped up by a reporter, and given to the reader or viewer each day in its pure form.

It's actively created and packaged each day by a team of reporters, writers, editors, and producers, all with their own agendas and interests, not least of which are the interests of the corporations who advertise in the newspaper or on the television station. Those interests must certainly be served. Perhaps reporting on the loss of life of the turkeys--both at the crash site, and, for the survivors, a few hours later at Foster Farms' processing plant, was not in the best interests of those advertisers.