Sunday, April 08, 2007


If you've never heard of the documentary Earthling, well, on the verge of being patronizing, lucky you. Having heard of this notorious doco, I hunted it down and after viewing it, I almost wish that Earthling to me was nothing but the word 'earthling' in italics. Not because it is bad by any means, but the stark truth of the film sears itself into your brain, leaving you unable to ever feign ignorance at the subject matter.

In short, the doco is about animal rights. Yeah, I can hear the groans already but this film is not PETA propaganda material. It doesn't resort to the organization's irritating and ultimately self-defeating 'shock tactics'. It does tend to fall on preachy grounds but given the obvious direction of the subject matter, it's hard not to.

What I thought was the most interesting thing about the doco was the idea of speciesism it expounded on. The idea is that we, top-of-the-food-chain-bearer-of-opposable-thumbs humans, are guilty of not including other living planets on the Earth when we use the term 'earthling', therefore unconsciously practising deplorable acts to what we view as lesser species. Hence, the -ism. The practice of speciesism is divided into 5 sections:

1. Pets - that we own these free creatures and expect them to serve us = a big no no.
2. Food - hidden-cameras taken into slaughterhouses allow us explicit footage of what really goes behind those walls.
3. Clothing - self-explanatory
4. Science
5. Entertainment - animals as exhibitions at zoos, circuses

For the most part I found that even if I didn't fully agree with everything said in the doco, the graphic content sure did have some truly stomach churning moments. These are my thoughts on the 5 sections humans are most guilty of in specieism. I should probably warn you that there will be spoilers. I would prefer if you, dear reader whether friend or random visitor, watched the film before reading on but if you can't stomach gore (and I mean, real life gore, not the CGI stuff you see in horror films or in CSI), then by all means. Hopefully my horrible grammar and inarticulacy will be no deterrent.

For those interested, you can watch the film online here. It runs for 95 minutes.

---Here be SPOILERS---

To begin, I should tell you that I would call myself a selective animal lover. In the sense that I love some animals more than others. Whales and wolves would be at the top of my list (and not just for alliterative purposes), whereas pigeons and guinea pigs are right down there. It's horrible and hypocritical but it's the truth. Besides, I never said I was a nice person. Alright.. onwards to my thoughts on the film.

1. Pets
Having never had a pet, apart from the one day Baxter affair (see: Flickr), I can't claim to know the motivations behind keeping a pet. Friends who have pets lavish them with so much attention and care that it's hard to believe that people will rear pets for any other reason besides adding another member to the family. Yet, there exists puppy mills where pets are bred for profit. And pets that have outgrown their rearer's comfort zone only to be abandoned. It's a sick world and I lead a charmed life, pardon the ignorance. Pet shelters can only do and keep so much abandoned pets. As humane as the concept of euthanasia is, it's still chilling having to watch actual footage of dogs slumping over five seconds after receiving the lethal injection. Worse still is the footage of inproper extermination, eg. cyanide in food. Euthanasia may be the most humane process but also the most expensive and in the end the mighty dollar speaks last. This segment lauds owners who haven't more than one space for a pet yet leave them unneutered because the excess of breeding goes to become landfill waste in the long run. Which I have to agree with for even if you do manage to sell your pets, there's no telling how well they will be treated or even how long they might hold the buyer's attention.

2. Food
When I tell people that I don't consume shark fin's soup (on the grounds of animal cruelty), I often get asked if I'm a vegetarian/vegan. I go on to tell them that no, I love my chicken too much to ever give it up, eating veges only is madness! how bout you? After watching this doco, I have to ask myself why the hypocritical partiality to sharks? Then I examine my life a bit more and have to admit that the main reason behind abstaining from pork for four years was not because of an objection to the breeding conditions of the pig, but borne out of an obsession with Jewish culture. I realize now that the looming extinction of a creature has had a lot to do with my food choices. That realization was affirmed while watching the doco because the parts I squirmed the most was during the footage of whale hunting. Having always had a soft side for whales (they are my second favourite mammals after humans), watching the visceral footage was horrible. There are, of course, equally visceral imagery regarding poultry, beef and pork slaughterhouses, which really affirms everything we've heard about the practices in these places. It's not really a question of whether we shouldn't eat meat. It's the circle of life. What really matter is if it's right to torture animals so grotesquely before we consume them. To give them hormone injections to bulk them up, to force animals into pens that can only hold a tenth of them is against what nature prescribed, is it not? I wonder if having an image attached to the rumour-turned-truth will prevent me from buying crispy strips off KFC. I'll tell you in a week.

3. Clothing
Alright, so that really weaned me off my hunt for the perfect leather jacket. Touché. No mink either, point taken.

4. Science
This is the section that I want to agree with but can't. When I was fourteen, I fancied myself an antivivisectionist. I was against all use of animal in product testing or medical research, the whole righteous she-bang really. Then I turned fifteen and in biology class, I happily spliced a frog open without much hesitation. It wasn't even in the name of science for me, just morbid fascination. Two years later I talked with a friend's mother over dinner about her work in scientific research and the use of animals in said field. Now, at the age of twenty, I have to admit that I am a pro-lab rat kinda person. In the doco, it was mentioned that the use of animals are wasted as these medicines are tested on humans in later clinical trials. To my understanding, those medicines/products used in clinical tests have been finely modified and worked upon after the results of the tests on animals. So really what the humans are receiving is at that point, the most perfect formulation after trial and error. I don't know what would happen to humans if they received the rawest product. Does anyone remember the international crisis a couple years ago where four humans reacted badly to a clinical test in Germany? I don't remember the specifics but the global reaction was urgency at its finest hour. I imagine that if animal testing was outlawed, that event would be a weekly occurrence, and for those who can't remember, it was urgency bordering on terror. I suppose to make clear, I am an advocate of donating human bodies to science as well. There is a lot of people dying of cancer. Need we add to the death toll on the quest to find a cure for cancer?

5. Entertainment
The doco made clearly the difference in zoos and conservations. Our natural curiosity of the exotic is the basis behind zoo operations, the film states. Which come to think of it, is quite true. Very rarely do zoos serve conservation purposes. Living in captivity is surely not healthy for the creature. Keiko, the whale from Free Willy, anyone? What really drove the point home was the bull-fighting footage. It's just wrong, what they do to the bulls to get them to 'fight'. They prod, poke, tighten reins, stab the bulls- all in the name of entertainment. Humans are the worst kind of species because we not only force other species for our entertainment but have no qualms in using fellow human beings too; the gladiators in ancient Rome comes to mind, or a more recent example, the leaked pictures of prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib. WWE, people! I have no idea why I brought that last point up, just thought it needs to be made clear that despite the best of our intentions, all of us are guilty of being speciesist. And too easily entertained by men in lycra.

I think that at the end of the day it's a dog eat dog world out there. Only the best survive, right? Darwin and all that rot. Yet I can't help but feel for our fallen earthlings, especially those killed because some people had too much a passion for fashion. I wished that slaughterhouses in the world would only use the most humane methods in killing livestock, yet I know profits are the order of the day so expenditure must be kept to a minimum. I wished I could say I wasn't a speciesist, that to me all animals are equal, but I laughed pretty badly at the footage of the 'pigeon bowling' sport. I'm a little confused, and I'm not sure what to do to ensure that animals can at very least be granted a humane death so all I can think to do is to pass the message on so that at bare minimum no one can feign ignorance at the extent we mistreat animals. Hopefully I've done that. Thanks for reading.