Event: Melbourne Writers Festival — You Animals.

Symposiums about the ethical treatment of animals are some of my favourite kinds of public debate. Earlier in the year I attended an Intelligence2 debate about the ethics of eating meat, and while the arguments put forth didn’t change my mind (or palate), I think we can all agree that to treat animals humanely is something most normal people would endeavour to do.

But after researching her Quarterly Essay, “Us & Them”, Anna Krien closed the session with the assumption that humans just aren’t that great. You only have to look at our treatment of asylum seekers to realise our view of treating “others” differently extends to them, too. In fact, that’s why Krien named the essay “Us & Them”: not only to signify that animals are the “them”, but after the Four Corners meat exportation exposé last year, so are the Indonesians.

The other three intellectuals and authors on the panel were equally as intriguing, if not all as equally pro-animal. Charlotte Wood, author of the novel Animal People, about people who don’t like animals—or don’t understand our adoration and obsession with them—echoes the sentiments of her characters in the book, saying that she doesn’t get how we dress our toy dogs up in clothes and put them in bags and coo over them like they were babies, but that we should ultimately respect animals and not treat them as objects, like we are so wont to do.

Tim Flannery, environment expert, needed no introduction, and he talked about how our modern culture doesn’t allow for the inclusion of animals as equals. Interestingly, he also added that 10% of our bodies aren’t even us: it’s animal matter, like mites that grow in our eyebrows. Eww! But that demonstrates how highly evolved and diverse animals are, much more than humans, I would say.

Speaking of evolution, Flannery also mentioned that animals from the parts of the world where people have been living the longest have a hatred of humans more deeply ingrained. Like water buffalo in Africa who will circle back around on humans who are hunting them and try to beat them at their own game. Whereas in America, their water buffaloes are relatively tame by comparison. And in Australia, we can coax native birds and wildlife to eat apples out of the palms of our hands, like my dad and grandfather used to do when I was a kid. But most animals are still so terrified of us because we destroyed their habitats, just as we are scared of exotic, archaic and extremely dangerous animals, like the cassowary or a crocodile.

It was obvious that author Sonya Hartnett likes animals a whole hell of a lot more than humans, which is also evident in her books, most of which are about or draw inspiration from animals. She said she’s happy to be the slave for her cats and dogs if they will “show me their secrets”. She made the observation that a bunch of crows she passed scavenging over a rubbish bin looked at her with such disdain that she had no doubt they not only fear us, but hate us, too.

I guess this is part of Aussie culture: domesticated animals are cute, wildlife is cool to look at in zoos, but none of this must come between us and them our meat. As Wood wrote in The Age last year:

“We force a dichotomy in which animals are either so like us that we cannot separate their needs from our own, or so unlike us as to be aliens, undeserving of any rights at all. The more we sentimentalise, the more we also brutalise.”

But animals have culture, too, as Flannery asserts. They use tools, forage for food, talk to each other, love, mate, and engage in group dynamics, just like us. (This culture was evident when a friend and I took our dogs away on a holiday last week and saw the dynamics occurring between them: my friend Deb’s dog, Minnie, is older and definitely in charge, whereas my dog, Mia, is happy to go along with that. Minnie even had the audacity to jump up onto my lap and sit there proudly while Mia was napping beside me in a nook between the couch and a blanket.) After all, who do you think we evolved from…?

Speaking of foraging for food, being a vegan doesn’t allow you immunity from contributing to the devastation of the animal kingdom. For example, wheat for bread—a staple in many vegetarian and vegan diets—is grown on land that has been cleared of its natural, animal-dwelling terrain and unless the proper practices are used, the soil may be rendered obsolete and more wheat won’t be able to be grown there. It’s a catch-22 between being a vege- or ecotarian and throwing up your hands because nothing we do will ever be good enough.

Flannery believes that as higher intelligence beings, we are the arbiters of the future of the planet and its animal (and human, for that matter) inhabitants, and to fully understand this and to be fully human we have to realise that “we’re animals, too”. After all, the four-legged, fury, feathery and fishy animals “are so much more than we’ve ever allowed them to be”. Maybe it’s time we loosened that chain a little bit.

Related: Should Meat be Off the Menu?

Top 11 TV Moments of 2011.

Elsewhere: [Charlotte Wood] This Dog is Not a Human Being… Right?

Image via The Vine.

Movie Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes*.

 

Proposition me with a trip to the movies to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes and, ordinarily, I wouldn’t be interested. Sci-fi, James Franco… not a fan of either.

But show me the trailer, with a heavy focus on the humanity of apes and how they’re  “just like us!” and hella yeah, I’m down to see it.

The film begins with James Franco as a scientist, who has been working on an anti-Alzheimer’s drug by injecting it into apes to see if their brains can repair themselves. Not only does the drug A-1-12 do this, it also creates new pathways in the brain, which means the recipient knows and can do things they couldn’t before.

Bright Eyes, the ape who produced such results, goes ape-shit, so to speak, and is put down. What was thought to be the drug’s fault is attributed to Bright Eyes’ unknown pregnancy and birth, and “she was just being protective” of the baby ape hidden in her enclosure.

The experiment is shut down and Franco’s character, Will Rodman, sees no option but to take the baby ape home to the San Francisco house he shares with his Alzheimer’s-inflicted father, Charles, played by John Lithgow.

Fast forward three years and Caesar, whom they’ve named the now-super ape, has had the A-1-12 transferred to him at birth, it is discovered. He has his own play area in the attic, and he gazes down at the human world below him, aching to experience life outside the confines of the Rodman home.

During this time, Will steals some vials of the A-1-12 drug and secretly gives them to the ailing Charles. The results are overnight and miraculous. With the introduction of Freida Pinto’s veterinarian Caroline, who barely has five lines in the movie and is literally the only female character, bar Bright Eyes who is killed off in the first five minutes to further the story for the male characters, it’s all one big happy family.

Five years later, Will is struggling to care for his dad, whose body has developed immunity to A-1-12, and to wrangle the increasingly smart, inquisitive, lonely and strong Caesar, who attacks a neighbour for roughing up Charles when he tries to drive away in his luxury car in a dementia-induced stupor.

Will is forced to send Caesar away, to a primate enclosure in the city. Unbeknownst to Will, Caesar and the other apes are treated like crap by the attendants, who are the first victims when the apes stage a revolution.

Each time Will and Caroline come to visit Caesar, he gradually wants nothing to do with them. He begrudges Will for abandoning him and allowing him to be treated “like an animal”.

This notion is really at the crux of the film. We treat animals like beings less than ourselves, even though we know more than ever about their thinking and feeling capacities, and we will live to suffer the consequences.

There are consequences when we treat them too much like humans, too. (Paging Paris Hilton.) We can see that when Caesar leads the motley crew of apes freed from “sanctuaries”, like the one Caesar and the other apes escape from, laboratories and the zoo, and when he tells (yes, apes can speak now. The miracle of A-1-12.) Will he’s “home” with his own species.

This is after the climactic Golden Gate Bridge fight scene, where man versus ape in an overwhelming victory for the latter. This scene perfectly illustrates the “pack mentality” we accuse sports stars of, and is illustrated by the London riots and the gang-rape of Lara Logan.

Other subtle and not-so-subtle metaphors in the film include the dichotomy of war, racism, prison, how we treat refugees, how we treat those we don’t understand, testing on animals (which, in this film, is null and void: Franklin, a lab technician who dies towards the end of the film after being exposed to the virus strain of A-1-12, A-1-13, proving it may work on apes, but it certainly doesn’t on humans) and, of course, the aforementioned way we treat animals.

I’m a sucker for an animal movie, and cried pretty much through the whole thing! And these “animals” weren’t even real! But, in retrospect, the flawless special effects and underlying meaning weren’t enough to save the dismal character development and non-ape related storyline. Pretty much all the characters were interchangeable.

I’m not a big fan of James Franco, and in this movie he didn’t annoy me with his James Franco-ness but, having said that, I would rather that than a repeat of his Oscars coast-through, which his performance in Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a mirror image of.

In terms of Pinto being the only woman in the movie, perhaps her no-character Caroline could have been spared in favour of one other female character with a bit of substance, a backstory, and a driving force in the storyline: mother Charlotte instead of father Charles.

But really, this reasoning is clutching at straws, as Rise of the Planet of the Apes is really all about the… erm… apes. Humans are merely transposable caricatures.

*It has come to my attention that I give away too much in my movie reviews, so the asterisk will now serve as a blanket *spoiler alert* from now on.

Related: Time’s “What Animals Think” August 16, 2010 Review.

Asylum Seekers: Have a Little Compassion.

Image via IMDb.

 

The Truth About Cats and Dogs.

From “Cats, Dogs & Asperger’s Syndrome” by on MamaMia:

“A solitary cat, surviving in a room full of boisterous dogs. Its every move being analysed, interpreted and modified based on the framework of rules, behavioural patterns and ingrained habits of the canine species. And as a result, being disastrously misunderstood.

“Dogs wag their tails as a sign of happiness and anticipation of social interaction. Cats swish their tails as a warning to back off and give them much needed space. Dogs always welcome affection in whatever way it is offered to them. Cats will also offer heartfelt affection but it needs to on their terms, at a time that suits them. Sometimes they just need to be left alone. Dogs depend on your approval for their emotional wellbeing. Cats depend on certain things being in place in a routine that they can depend on, and will then reward your reliability with their unwavering friendship.

“Dogs are inherently social. They are pack animals with deeply entrenched hierarchical rules of canine society and as a result are desperately eager to please, and occasionally challenge, the pack leader. As puppies, they will romp and play delightedly with their littermates until they fall into an exhausted, but happy heap on top of each other at the end of the day. They rarely turn down an offer of affection and will warmly greet their family with furry hugs and sloppy kisses when they get home.

“On the surface, cats may seem more aloof, but cat lovers around the world will be quick to tell you they are always keenly observing every detail and will reward those who take the time to understand them with warmth, affection, loyalty and love. Dogs are less discriminating in whom they shower with their boundless love, and this is part of their universal appeal, but it is a trait that cats simply don’t understand … or tolerate. Their love needs to be earned.”

Not to trivialise Asperger’s Syndrome, but as much as I love dogs and would choose to be one if I could be any animal, I am very much a cat. Ask anyone.

Then again, maybe I have a mild case of undiagnosed Asperger’s…? It wouldn’t be unheard of.

I know two people with Asperger’s (perhaps more who haven’t divulged their condition; one who very obviously struggles with social interaction, the other; I couldn’t even tell they had it, based on what we’re told about Asperger’s in the media.

What about you? Asperger’s aside, do you relate more to cats or dogs?

Elsewhere: [MamaMia] Cats, Dogs & Asperger’s Syndrome.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

Mark Zuckerberg gets engaged, racism ensues.

Celebrities: what gives us the right to judge them?

“The disappearing bush is a burning issue”: “Just like the rain forest and the ozone layer, pubic hair has been disappearing on young, fertile, desired and desiring bodies…” Must read.

Flavorwire’s top ten teaching flicks. Long live Mr. Holland’s Opus!

The beauty of “the lesser-watched-sitcom”.

The benefits of being an introvert:

“… Extroverts are more likely than introverts to be hospitalized as a result of an injury, have affairs (men) and change relationships (women). One study of bus drivers even found that accidents are more likely to occur when extroverts are at the wheel… [Introverts are] more likely to wear ponytails and glasses and be the subject of a bet featuring Freddie Prinze Junior as the Popular Guy trying to ask her to prom…”

The infiltration of “like” into every (mostly female) conversation. Like, you know, whatever!

Disney and fat-phobia.

Is rape biologically imperative for men?

Why won’t Bristol Palin acknowledge her sexual assault?:

“[Feminist author and blogger Jessica Valenti ponders the] … impact Bristol’s story will have on the thousands of young women who read her memoir: ‘Not calling it assault—and blaming herself, as she does in the book—sends a dangerous message to young women who may have similar experiences.’ She writes that Bristol’s sense that she had ‘sinned’ and ‘had’ to marry [Levi] Johnston ‘broke [her] heart a bit’. Mine too.

“But I actually wonder if Bristol’s story, with all its heartache and ambiguity, might actually serve as a bit of entry level feminism for her readers. What transpired between Bristol and Levi, after all, was not remotely uncommon, and nor was Bristol’s reaction…”

Rachel Hills on Mad Men.

Lumping penis-Tweeter Anthony Weiner, adulterer and sexual harasser Arnold Schwarzenegger, and alleged rapist Dominique Strauss-Kahn in together: are they just afraid of “being invisible to women”?

Speaking of, ladies, make sure you don’t marry a man other women find attractive. The good-looking ones always stray, if Weiner is anything to go by.

My two criticisms of this theory are 1) um, when did the popular consensus lean toward “Weiner is hot”? and 2) Paul Newman. One of the best-looking men who ever lived, and faithful to his wife til the end.

Furthermore, what about that study that said relationships where the man is better looking than the woman last longer because the women puts in more effort to keep him?

Maybe Voltron was right in telling us not to believe the studies…

The myth of the female praying mantis.

“Can we honestly expect corporations to be bastions of morality and ethical behaviour?”

Victoria’s Secret’s target demographic: real women who want to know how their lingerie will make them feel, or 15-year-old boys?

Julia Gillard and Tim Mathieson’s 60 Minutes interview was a few weeks ago now, but Annabel Crabb’s commentary on the topic of our lack of respect for the Prime Minister is timeless:

“Surely she has earned the right not to endure infantilising questions about whether she really loves her boyfriend. And as for the awful matter of the First Nuptials (a grim sequence concluded the interview, with much chummy speculation from Wooley on who would be the ‘popper’ and ‘poppee’ of the marriage question, and more nervous giggling from the PM)—well, it’s fairly rude to ask, even without a national audience watching.

“Why do people feel they can take such liberties with this prime minister?”

25 things you need to know about Green Lantern before you see it. (Warning: ruthless spoilers ahead).

Strange True Blood bedfellows.

“Scientists VS. Shock Jocks: Who Do You Believe” on the subject of climate change?

Leggings running pants as pants.

Naww, this makes me want a dog even more. Even a blind, mangy, abused one. It’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. And it’s better for an animal to feel love before loss.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

 

“A Brief History of the Bump Watch.”

And for any preggo Scarlett Women out there, this one’s also for you: “What You NEVER, Not in a Million Years, Expect When You’re Expecting”.

Dodai Stewart discovers the benefits of jeggings.

In the wake of St. Kilda’s most recent sex scandal (Ricky Nixon and the same underage girl who released damaging nude photos of St. Kilda players Nick Riewoldt and Nick Dal Santo in December, for those of you who have been under a rock the last week or so), Hawthorn’s Lance Franklin has released a sexist line of t-shirts.

Also with the St. Kilda Schoolgirl Scandal, Round 2, Mia Freedman writes:

“… I think it’s extremely interesting how she is indeed redressing the power imbalance between a 17-year-old girl and high profile AFL players and managers. She’s using social media and traditional media in ways that have been both surprising and disturbing to watch.”

Freedman shares her views on Justin Bieber’s recent abortion comments, as well. More on this to come next week.

For all the single ladies (put your hands up!), “10 More Reasons You’re Not Married”, which include such gems as “you’re not good enough at fellatio or you’re too good at fellatio,” “you are too fat or too skinny” and “you want children too much and/or not enough”. It seems we can’t (or can) win.

Guest Girl with a Satchel blogger, Georgie Carroll of Frangipani Princess, talks teen magazines. “… My favourite day of the month is still when the newest issues hit the stand”; mine too.

On femme fatales.

Jenna Sauers attends a Fashion Week PETA party and “talks about animals with Tim Gunn”. Interesting stuff.

Are Lady Gaga and Rihanna really original, or “stealing other artists’ work”?

Are you a fan of kangaroo meat? Read this; it might change your mind:

“Like the seal trade, it’s brutal, but it happens away from our view, at night in the bush. According to the law, adult kangaroos should be killed by a single shot to the brain.  But in reality, many are injured in the neck or the body, and flee into the bush where they die slowly and painfully.

“What’s even less known is the terrible fate of joeys, just like the one Ray waded into turbulent flood waters to save: over a million a year are killed each year along with their mothers. How? The hunter stomps on the pouch joey’s head, or bludgeons him or her with a metal pipe.  This is enough to make you think twice about ever putting roo on the menu. The young outside the pouch are shot through the heart or head.”

Images via Romantic Dreaming, Juciytings.

Book Review: True Blood & Philosophy by George A. Dunn & Rebecca Housel.

 

I bought this book last year around the time season three of True Blood was coming to an end, and the inspiration struck me to write a post on Sookie Stackhouse and feminism. Needless to say, that post has yet to come to fruition (watch this space next week), but I finally got around to reading the book in the past fortnight or so.

The great thing about the Pop Culture and Philosophy series is that you don’t need to be an avid fan of the topic each book deals with; most of the philosophical musings can be applied to everyday life. (I’m making a gross generalisation here, as True Blood & Philosophy is the first Pop Culture volume I’ve read!)

Anyone who’s familiar with the show and Charlaine Harris’ books will know that the way vampires are treated in the somewhat alternate universe of Bon Temps, Louisiana, is a metaphor for how gays and blacks have been treated for centuries.

True Blood and Philosophy delves into this throughout the book, but particularly in the “Eros, Sexuality & Gender” section, where the issue of “orientation” is raised: “Vampires seem to be unlike gays in that we can’t say that vampires are born that way… But there is still a parallel to being born either gay or straight, for once you become a vampire, there’s no returning to a human existence” (p. 98).

One way vampires and gays are different, though, is that “a homosexual predator” cannot “attack or coerce an unwilling person into homosexual acts”, whereas a vampire can take someone against their will (p. 99). You can’t “catch” homosexuality, but you can catch vampirism.

To take it a step further, there was a time when propaganda that the gays will give you AIDS was rife (some might argue that it still is), and were prohibited from participating in sports and other activities where blood could be spilled. This raises the question of the marginalisation of vampires in sports, as well as the use of their blood as medicine. (See “Coming Out of the Coffin & Coming Out of the Closet”, p. 93–108.)

My favourite chapter deals with the attitudes of humans towards vampires and vice versa, and how the way they treat each other amounts to the way non-fiction humans treat animals.

For example, Eddie Gauthier, the vampire whom Jason Stackhouse and Amy Burley take hostage and use as their own personal V vat, is a parallel for “the way millions of animals are treated every day on factory farms… Eddie, like the animals on factory farms, is exploited as a commodity with no regard for his suffering” (p. 36–37).

Furthermore, “… many… vampires actually regard human beings as lower forms of life ripe for exploitation, not much different from the way Aristotle and others regarded non-human species,” in “a classic example of speciesism” (p. 38–39).

Last year, I blogged about an article I read in Time, about how animals that we once thought to not be able to understand language, reasoning, fairness and pain, actually do experience these things. Vampires seem to have a similar attitude towards humans, whom they see only as a food source, and “incapable of feeling pain as we do”, according to the magister when ordering Bill to turn Jessica as punishment for killing one of their own to protect his “human pet”, Sookie (p. 44).

In a similarly intriguing chapter, William C. Curtis asks “can vampires be good citizens”?:

“Should there be a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to require vamps to come clean about their past murders in return for a grant of amnesty? How should vampires be taxed, especially since they don’t need many of the services that government provides, like Social Security, health care, and education? Can they join, or be drafted into, the armed forces?… Will their vulnerability to sunlight be treated as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act? Can vampire convicts be sentenced to life in prison, or would eternal incarceration violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment?” (p. 65–66).

All these questions have been brought about by the advent of synthetic blood, allowing vampires to “come out of the coffin”, so to speak.

On this, an interesting footnote from the chapter “Un-True Blood: The Politics of Artificiality” by Bruce A. McClelland, refers to a 1927 study by Takeji Furukawa on the correlation between blood types and personality. Being a Japanese study, and the fact that synthetic TruBlood was developed by the Japanese; is there some connection? Or just a coincidence? The clot plot thickens…

A memorable event thus far on True Blood has been the introduction of Maryann the Maenad and her Dionysian debacle. “Let the Bon Temps Roll: Sacrifice, Scapegoats and Good Times” deals with the self-preservation of the Bon Temps residents in “not wanting to know what’s in the sausage”, as Lafayette Reynolds would say (p. 141–142). Or rather, not wanting to know what’s in Maryann’s “hunter’s soufflé”!

This ignorance is further symbolised by the black eyes of Maryann’s followers; they’re literally blind to her wicked ways (p. 142).

Of course this book is more suited to the True Blood fan, however it’s not a prerequisite. (I’m trying to force-feed my friend Laura this book in the hopes that she will cotton on to the sexy-smarts of the show. She’s doing the same to me with Mad Men.) Many of the thoughts discussed go much deeper than just Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries and vampirism, and it’s quite a thought-provoking—yet still light—book.

Related: Time’s “What Animals Think” Issue: August 16, 2010.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

Yet another reason to “really dislike Katy Perry”.

On the other hand, yet another reason to “Be Pretty Damn Euphoric You Live in New York City”:

“We are, as a group, anti-fanny-pack as much as we are pro-gay-marriage. Hetero marriage… we can pretty much take or leave.”

Dr. Katrina Warren on “The Grief of Losing a Pet”. Be warned: this is a tear jerker. I was bawling by the third paragraph, possibly because this story is close to my heart. I lost my dog Ben (above), who’d been with us for seven years, last year, and I still miss him like crazy.

While it may be summer here in the Southern Hemisphere, Gawker lists the “10 Things I Love About Winter”, one being winter movies (which we see here in summer):

“So while Pirates of the Caribbean 18: The Scullery’s Scourage, Transformers 8: This Time It’s Impersonal, and Men in Black 3: Will Smith’s Kids Can’t Make All the Money may make your July 4th jam, I’d rather pass the popcorn in December.”

Satah from This Ain’t Living mourns the loss of “the fun, campy, musical romp of high school TV shows”, Glee.

From “Harry Potter and the Incredibly Conservative Aristocratic Children’s Club”:

“Maybe, incidentally, the reason no other woman as smart as Hermione appears in the books is that J.K. Rowling, like the Turk, can bear no sister near the throne. Her volcanic ego burns down everything in its path. Where the Twilight books are works produced from and for a state of sexual yearning and frustration, Rowling’s ‘wizarding world’ is a fantasy place created for the benefit of Hermione Granger, for her infinite sagacity, foresightedness and teacher’s-pet-hood to be rewarded at every turn.”

I wish Dolly Parton was my fairy godmother.

Elizabeth Wurtzel on the sex appeal of Sarah Palin. Sure, she may be a “kind of sexy librarian, kind of a MILF” but “unfortunately, Sarah Palin is not very bright, not very thoughtful and not very qualified to run a country”. Well said.

“This is a post about judgement”, by Mia Freedman.