Vegans of Color

Because we don’t have the luxury of being single-issue

Earthlings: sado-masochism? July 29, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Royce @ 8:56 am
Tags: , , , , ,

My first year of college the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition had an event in one of the larger spaces. There was a screening of Earthlings, and free vegan food from Zarona’s Middle Eastern Restaurant down the street. My friends and I went a little late, and found all that was left were a few balls of falafel and a tiny bit of baklava. We sat on the floor of the room with around 70 other college students and downed our food while Earthlings played on a huge (15 feet high or so) screen. That is the first and only time I have ever watched Earthlings, I refuse to ever watch it again.

Multiple times VARC has had events that involved watching Earthlings. When I was involved with the group I even sat at a table with a macbook playing the movie in the college center, but I positioned myself behind the computer. I just listened to Joaquin soothing, monotone voice. I was bothered by the upset looks of people walking by, people who looked upset at suddenly being assaulted by images of mutilated bodies.

One of my friends loved Earthlings, to the point of watching it on her own time.  Other memebers of VARC were happy to show Earthlings as many times as possible. There were a complex set of situations that led to me leaving VARC (omnivores in the group, the intense hegemonic whiteness,  the welfarism, and the lack of any activism), but the fetishization of Earthlings also contributed.

Question: Why do many vegans and AR activists watch Earthlings. To be informed. Why do many vegans and AR activists watch Earthlings more than once, twice, three, ten times? For pleasure?

Watching films like Earthlings becomes like watching pornography. Instead of sexualized, (de)human bodies the viewer watches tittilating visions of violence against nonhuman animals. How much information can be gained from watching a pig killed?

I know Earthlings is informative. Earthlings is also sensational. It attempts to create feelings of disgust/anger/sadness for the purpose of turning up your activist-libido. Do we need it, is it even good for animals?

If you’re the type that subscribes to personhood for animals, how can you watch Earthlings? I’m legitly curious. A film of humans dying isn’t something most people want to watch. So why is it different with animals? Should the disgust we feel in our bellies be a warning? The porn addict needs something more hardcore to get it up.  Do we require more and more intense images of animal suffering just to reach the same level of outrage? Are we depersonifying animals by showing images of their pain and suffering for our own sado-masochistic activism?


34 Responses to “Earthlings: sado-masochism?”

  1. Anonymous2 Says:

    I have never completely watched it all the way through. But I have known AR activists who have and probably more than once. ( IE more than once in the process of showing it to others )

    My thought is that it reinforces and reconnects activists to what they are fighting for. AR, in general, is very draining ( by many personal accounts ) because the issues are so big and the task so daunting, that many get burnt out and stop activism for periods of time. It is the videos, conferences, websites etc which are powerful reminders to reignite the activism to end the cruelty. This is my guess though.

    I don’t believe we are necessarily depersonifying animals by showing cruelty to others if it is in the attempt to stop the cruelty. Without visual representation, many people would not truly believe what really happens or make the connection.

    • Royce Says:

      All activism is draining, not all activists watch videos of horrible things in order to reignite. Only AR has this strange video component.

      The videos of animals are moved from the sphere of evidence to sensationalism, so that you can reignite your activism.

      I don’t need to see videos of rape, to know it is horrible and exists. I don’t need to see videos of folks bleeding and dying from bombs dropped on their homes to know it was horrible and those people felt pain. Why do we submit to audio-visual assault/zoological snuff to find out that animals suffer?

      • Laura Says:

        I don’t know if this is how other people see it, and I myself can hardly bring myself to watch any videos, much less a whole movie, but we are assured by some (but hardly all!) aspects of culture that rape and war are, at the very least, unpleasant, even if they are still tacitly accepted in some way.

        This is not the case with animal abuse; so many people state that they have NO PROBLEM with the way animals are treated in factory farms.

        So these videos can be a way to “snap out of it,” the conditioned acceptance that what goes on IS acceptable. Re-watching can be a way to reinforce the fact that “no matter how many people think it is ok, THIS is what they think is ok, and if I expose myself to it, I will remember why I feel and know it is not ok, because THIS is what it is.”

        So many are so remote from this cruelty, and many forces work to make that cruelty seem even more remote, insignificant, unimportant.

        Many people are also very remote from things like war, and so anti-war activism often takes on an ideological bent rather than a “look who this hurts” bent. With AR, the ideology behind it is still so far from public acceptance, that often public events are much more AW-oriented, hence the use of images. The closest analogy I can think of is the anti-choice movement: they know there are plenty of people who will never agree with them on principle, so instead they focus on the harm done to individuals, and show the same sort of photos. I can’t say I know what goes on inside the non-public aspects of the anti-choice movement, though.

        This may also be why these videos are sensationalized, as a sort of counter to the numbing effect of the distance between ourselves and these events.

        That is my speculation, at least, and the reasoning behind my very occasional watching of a video (never a repeat of one I have seen before): sometimes when I am feeling distant from the cause, I need something to “snap” me out of my comfort zone.

      • angel Says:

        I always thought I knew, but I really didn’t know till I saw Earthlings. How arogant was I.

  2. Livin Veg Says:

    I no longer watch violent videos of animal abuse/slaughter. I know the issues and see no point in watching such cruelty over and over. However, I work in AR and showing the footage to others is very beneficial. They definitely shake people to the core and many become veg or change their eating habits for the better. I think those clips/films etc. have done a lot of good.

    The only way I will watch a video is if someone I know who doesn’t know much about it wants to see for themselves what I’ve been talking about. Then, for the sake of the animals I’ll sit through a film or a clip. Example: My friend never wore fur again after I showed her “The Witness.”

    Do I think it glorifies the deaths of animals? No. I don’t. Maybe for some. I don’t pretend to know what is in people’s minds. But I think it’s the same instinct as looking at a car crash. The worse it is, the more likely we as humans are to look. I’m not sure what that says about us, but it’s part of human nature. Why not use it for the benefit of animals?

    • Royce Says:

      I would never claim that these videos glorify the deaths of animals. It does however sensationalize them. I also think there is a difference between looking at a car crash and looking at a video of beings dying. The crash is less mediated than the video.

  3. C Says:

    “Only AR has this strange video component.”

    Not true. The 911 truth movement is also heavily has this component. Watching the video of the WTC towers collapsing over and over (and over and over) again. It’s like watching a snuff film in which thousands of people died.
    I watched Earthlings once only too. I can’t see the point in doing it again. However I’ve also seen a lot of footage of atrocities such as mass killings of humans (recently it was in the film, Waltz with Bashir for example). It’s not that I enjoy watching the footage but I do like to know the truth of what’s going on. Like you, Royce, I have a problem with sensationalism but I still recommend films like Earthlings, and Waltz with Bashir, etc, to raise awareness about what’s really going on in the world. I don’t feel that this negates my acknowledgement of the personhood of nonhuman or human animals. It may actually help personify them to viewers who had no idea that other animals actually don’t just happily walk into a slaughterhouse and fall on a sword so they can be consumed. People watching may come away with an understanding that nonhuman animals have an interest in continuing their lives.

    • Royce Says:

      Maybe it’s just me (doubt it) but I mostly consider the 9/11 Truth movement to be more conspiracy theorists than activists.

      But maybe there are activist movements that watch videos, and I just don’t know about them.

      Video evidence isn’t some neutral thing, so I also feel talking to folks works a bah-jillion times better than watching Earthlings. I personally don’t know a single person who stopped eating meat because of watching Earthlings.

      That said my post was more about the folks who are already vegan who enjoy watching Earthlings repeatedly, like some folks love watching pornography.

      (I also don’t have a problem with sensationalism)

      • Anonymous2 Says:

        On a completely anecdotal note, I have known an activist who has converted more than 1 person to go vegan just by having them watch Earthlings. This same person recommended I watch it..because she knew that I had not seen it and that I should watch it as it would be a powerful piece to provide to others in question watch.

        When you say
        “Why do many vegans and AR activists watch Earthlings more than once, twice, three, ten times?”, Are you saying that they watch the movie alone or in the context of watching with someone new to immediately answer any questions?

        If I actually knew someone who watched it multiple times for ‘entertainment’ I’m not sure I would want to know them.

      • C Says:

        I’m sure it’s not just you but the term “conspiracy theory/theorist” was created, or made pejorative, to invalidate anyone who disagrees with an “official” bullshit government story (most often a conspiracy theory in itself – like 19 arab hijackers plotting to fly commercial planes into buildings within pinpoint accuracy, after being in the air, off radar, for over an hour, in some of the most protected airspace in the world… and then some of these hijackers ended up alive and well) and quell dissent. Talk about parenthetical asides! Or maybe I’m just a “conspiracy theorist”?
        I’m not here to defend the 911 truth “movement”, because many of the people involved make me sick, but you’re just plain wrong. There definitely are activists involved. Mainly that type of activism is just talking to folks to raise awareness and producing videos or literature to expose the lies of the unproven government story. The reason why it’s still a pertinent issue is because 1) the “official” story has never been proven and 2) the events that day serve as a pretext for two major wars going on. Shit, that’s the “new” administration’s justification for killing innocent people in Afghanistan. “Gotta get (Bush family business partner) Bin Laden!”
        Perhaps you just meant you haven’t looked into the issue?
        Anyways, back to the post, I, for one, went vegan after watching footage of animal exploitation and slaughter and I know several other people who have also. I suppose it depends on the person. Some people need a visual to actually grasp the reality. I watched Earthlings once to see if it was something I would present to other people. After it hit me so hard that I was sobbing, I decided that it was an effective tool to raise awareness in others. That’s not to say that talking to people isn’t a great activity also. I’m all in favor of that and do it as often as I can.
        With all that said, I personally don’t know one person who just sits and watches these videos over and over, or more than once, like a porn addict. Vegans I know watch them only when showing them to other people.

      • Royce Says:

        I didn’t exactly use conspiracy theorist pejoratively. But I’ll admit I don’t like the 9/11 Truth movement because I don’t think it matters. At this point it doesn’t matter who flew planes into the building– what matters is attempting to stop the bombing of Afghanistan and Iraq. It doesn’t matter which mythology you describe to (except you’ll do more good combating the wars while following the official mythos because folks will listen, but aside). There are anti-war activists who subscribe to the 9/11 Truth movement, but that movement doesn’t, in my opinion, make anyone an activist. I don’t need to look into the issue to know that 9/11 was used for imperialist war.

        Well you don’t know the same people as me. The people who watch it without the same desire to proselytize are, I’m sure, more common than you think.

  4. Royce Says:

    anon2, I know folks who watch Earthlings alone, with groups of other vegans, and with others while taking a special joy in it themselves.

  5. Tim Says:

    In all honesty, I’ve seen (“sat through” is more appropriate) the documentary Earthlings at least 20 times, Peaceable Kingdom about 6. Likable? Comparable to porn? What?

    Although I’m not a 100% in agreement with what is said in Earthlings, such as some speciesist remarks, everyone I watched it with has made profound changes in their life to benefit non-human animal rights.
    Every single time I was a train wreck, there is simply no way to get accustomed to an hour and a half violence against other animals, although I’ve seen my share with my own eyes. But for individual activism it is unmistakable a very powerful tool. Handing the documentary on dvd only results in stopping the dvd and continuing to be the exact reason for the horror that it shows. And more importantly: the questions they have during the documentary fade away pretty soon, missing chances on informing them.
    Sensational? Yes, it provokes interest and a negative excitement. This shock effect is often what non-vegans need, since it is very hard to make them aware that their victims are sentient living beings with an interest in living their lives.

    If I have to sit through another sleepless night, then so be it. At least one more person will do the right thing. So don’t consider everyone watching the documentary more than once a thrill-seeker, because for most vegans it is anything but entertainment. My attempt to cope? The knowledge that every day I’m doing all I can.

  6. Alicia Says:

    Great topic! I’ve heard about Earthlings from several vegans and folks in the AR movement and they were really shaken and disturbed by it. Many wished they never saw it, turned it off before it was finished and some have even been physically sickened by the movie.

    I have chosen to never watch the movie because of such reactions and because I feel, for me, it doesn’t serve a purpose. I’m already vegan, I already believe strongly in AR and am against specisim and cruelty to all animals. I was never one of those people who was “desensitized” as a kid with horror movies and gore so it doesn’t take much to get me really really upset. I haven’t even watched things like “Meet Your Meat” and even have a really hard time so much as glancing at images from factory farms in brochures.

    At the end of the day different things work for different people. If that type of format brings people to the AR movement and veganism then that’s great for those people. The more tools we have the better. There’s no reason the truth should be censored just because people like me can’t stand to (or refuse to) watch it.

  7. C Says:

    Perfect timing from Francione –

    I think it’s interesting however that he used to have many “blood and guts” pics in the header of his blog but now they seem to have been removed.
    Still a great analysis though.

    Royce, or anyone, if you gain an interest in learning WHY we are in the major wars we’re in now, check this doc –
    One could hardly say this is “conspiracy theory”.

    • Royce Says:

      It is still a conspiracy theory (in the literal sense). And I still don’t believe in most of it and think almost all is pointless, and doesn’t actually serve to do anything to change things.

      Plus it has weird racist moments: calling for war in Pakistan, and being upset that folks who were accused of being terrorists (almost all brown men) were set free after a horrible and racist witchhunt.

      • C Says:

        You’re generalizing here Royce and obviously desperately reaching. So it’s not important to you and, *according to you* it’s pointless and won’t change things, so it’s not activism or relevant to what’s going on today? Ok… That’s your loaded opinion and you’re entitled to it.
        The AR movement or vegan movement (whatever there is of one) also has racist components and moments. Does that mean that all vegans are racist or that the movement is racist? Many, or all, movements have undesirable components to some people. Does that invalidate those movements? Actually I don’t know what you’re talking about with the Pakistan thing. I do know of many right wing anti government, super patriot bigots who jumped on the 911 truth movement (you can refer to my post where i said many of the people make me sick) but that’s not indicative of everyone who’s actively trying to find the truth of, or simply ask questions about, 9/11, including first responders and family members. And it sure doesn’t invalidate the evidence that shows that things didn’t happen in the way that we were told. See, I thought you hadn’t looked into it. Now you know plenty about it? OK…
        So you’re not into and it’s not your thing. Fine. But to paint it as racist just to brush it off is straight up ignorant. You know that most people in that “movement” are anti-war. That’s why many *activists* consider it important to expose the truth about the pretext for the major wars currently underway with no end in sight. All in the name of “terrorist that attacked us on 9/11”.
        Did you even watch that vid or did you already deem it as conspiracy theory or racist because of your preconceived notions of what it’s about? That’s only one of many vids. Some vids and literature are actually made by brown men. Of course you wouldn’t know that because it’s not important to you and you haven’t looked into it before dismissing it as pointless.

        (talking to a brick wall)

      • Royce Says:

        I just feel that the 9/11 Truth movement comes from a privileged space. A space where you think that the government tells the truth, and the state protects your interests. Then you become shocked when it doesn’t. Communities I’ve lived in don’t need to know every instance of abuses of state power, official lies, and so on– we’ve lived it.

        (Brickwalls can listen, we just don’t budge for everything.)

      • C Says:

        I think that’s a valid point, Royce. I agree with you. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard lines like “let’s take ‘our’ country back” and bullshit like that.

        However that’s certainly not indicative of everyone who feels it’s important to question “official” theories of what happened that day.

        “Communities I’ve lived in don’t need to know every instance of abuses of state power, official lies, and so on– we’ve lived it.” I’ve lived it too but I don’t think that negates the importance of questioning blatant lies that have lead to the slaughter of millions of people abroad. Knowing details is still important in my mind. I don’t know about you but I like to be as informed as possible.

        And, if you remember, my point in the beginning was that, like animal rights activism, there is a strange video component to 9/11″truth” activism. Some people believe it’s activism even if you do not.

        Oh yea, and great comment about brick walls. You’re a cleaver guy.

      • C Says:

        Clever actually. Hell, you may be a “cleaver” guy too…

      • Royce Says:

        Flattery will get ya everywhere, C 😉

  8. nonfictions Says:

    Note: I read your entry, but I have not read Gary Francione’s entry but here’s the link to his entry where he discusses this same topic:

    My P.O.V. is that vegans need to be honest and not just focus on sensationalized and sometimes fringe videos. We need to show the reality of factory farms and also state that we as vegans are unwilling to eat animals even if they are humanely treated (which of course is usually anything but humane, another point that we should explain to people). We can’t pretend as if all animals are treated as those in Earthlings, and we shouldn’t lie to get people on our side.

    In short, I believe that veganism (at least for me) is about not eating animals because it’s unnecessary (for most, if not all people) and veganism is about practicing nonviolence and attempting to live in a harmonious world with all creatures.

    I personally have watched Earthlings twice. Once with my mom and another with my brother in an attempt to explain my veganism to them. I do not watch it for myself. I am content reading statistics and articles about animal rights (and the occasional video).

    • Tim Says:

      Prof. Francionce states that
      1. Upon seeing gore images and videos, people might walk away from the demonstration or informational table.
      2. They might be used to seeing extreme violence and gore all the time.
      3. These images focus on the treatment of animals and not on their use.

      However, speaking from the experience of organizing demonstrations weekly I honestly have to say that people are drawn to videos, more than to the images. We only show videos of undercover investigations of farms and slaughterhouses made by our organization. Especially when those videos are accompanied by the sound of a squealing animal, people actually stop and watch. Although some do, the majority does not turn the head away – it is exactly then that I find most people open to a conversation. They had no prior interest in the subject, had no expectations of being confronted with something they are personally and directly responsible for and seldom do they have information on the subject. Demonstrations -and most definitely informational tables- not backed up by harsh images have a far less compelling effect on the general public. There is a huge probability that this is due to the “thrill seeking aspect of humans” -which I’d preferably not use- but it also means possibilities for activism. Let’s not forget that most non-vegans do not go to open forums, videoconferences and public discussions, that they do not read books or websites on the matter and hardly ever voluntarily sit through documentaries, whether these are to be classified as gore or not.

      To quote the professor: “Some advocates say that they use these videos but then follow up with a message about abolishing animal use. Although that is better than not doing a follow-up, the problem, of course, is that if you are showing a film or presenting materials that are part of an overall message of reform and regulation, it may be difficult to counteract the welfarist message that is usually explicit in these materials. You appear to be arguing with the material that you are showing and that confuses people.”

      It is indeed difficult to counteract the welfarist message, I completely agree; the argument “we can do this far more humanly” is brought up plenty of times and has to be “put down” in that same conversation. But this is exactly a strong opener to start with an abolitionist message: many of these people already reason that there should be non-human animal welfare and never heard any arguments to abstain from all non-human animal usage. Exactly because of seeing these videos, spectators become more aware that other animals feel the same pain as humans and have the same interest in not being used and enslaved, making it an opportunity to plant the anti-speciesist seed. We do not need to argue with the material we are showing, because these videos can just as much be used to challenge all exploitation of non-human animals, which is exactly what we do.

      In all honesty, I would have a very hard time reaching that very same public -which is not specifically looking for any thoughts on non-human animal usage- if it weren’t for “blood and guts”. Every informational table I am confronted with this sad truth…

  9. meri Says:

    I watched Earthlings once in the privacy of my home. I was vegetarian at the time but after watching the video I told myself that I could no longer continue supporting various forms of animal treatment. My diet changed and I soon started getting rid (or wearing out) products while continuing to educate myself on animal rights and veganism. I cannot watch that video again and I have no plans of ever doing so.

    I’m torn on this: one the one hand, before viewing Earthlings I did plenty of reading but continued about my not vegan habits. Earthlings was a wake up call. It prompted me to seek out additional information.

    If the movie is viewed alone or multiple times without seeking out additional information, I don’t know how effective that would be, let alone the psychological impact on the person doing the screening.

    I believe the most important/effective way of promoting veganism is meeting with like-minded people. At the time, I was friends with an ethical vegan and he was always helpful and polite whenever I asked him questions. He never once mentioned Earthlings. Community is important, however it can be difficult to find. As a person of color in small town without a strong “veg” community I find it challenging. I primarily communicate online and have found other local vegans through the process.

    Yeah, not quite sure where I’m going with all this, just that it’s important to have that face-to-face interaction with others, not just showing a video.

  10. Elaine Vigneault Says:

    I have to wonder about the circles you run with, Royce, because I don’t know anyone who has watched Earthlings more than once and I know tons of people who refuse to watch it or who have only seen pieces of it.

    Myself, I’ve watched it once. That’s it.

    • Royce Says:

      Well, truthfully more circles I used to run in, when I did animal advocacy at my school. As I’ve distanced myself from PETA-loving, Earthling-watching, middle-class vegans I don’t have to worry about it quite as much.

  11. angel Says:

    Earthlings is not “pleasurable” to watch. It has changed my life, I am now a vegetarian to be vegan in the near future. My husband who has been vegetarian for over 30 years in now a vegan after watching the film. So to say that it is other than the single most compelling, life changing documentary is an understatement.

    It shows human contempt for animals especially when most mainstream religion close their eyes to the way animals are treated, instead professing that we have dominion over the animals because the literate few several hundred years ago said so. Animal husbandary has never been so vile as it is now due to the increase demand from flesh eating human kind (including me until I saw earthlings).

    It has opened my eyes, my head is no longer buried in the sand as it once was. If we consume animal products we must be responsible to see how and where it comes from and the suffering of these innocent animals.

  12. Superfoods Says:

    You know what, all I can say it watching even a few minutes of Earthlings has helped me be more vocal in presenting what I see as the positive alternative, raw vegan diet. It really shook me into a greater participation in being upset by the treatment of these animals and into more sharing and creating dialogue with people who eat meat about the other option of vegetarian and raw vegan diets.

  13. Jim Says:

    I was already a vegan after watching Earthlings, but it was definitely the final deciding factor in devoting myself to animal activism and not being ashamed of encouraging others to become vegan.
    I don’t know anyone who has watched it more than once, but if people need to remind themselves why they’re dedicated to a certain cause, I’m not going to judge them for it. I don’t think it’s “sado-masochism.”

  14. Ciuma Says:

    I started out with the Mercy for Animals investigation videos. At the point I had just become vegetarian and was told to go vegan by a friend who described to me how chickens couldn’t spread their wings and what not. Secretly I thought, “Chickens can’t spread their wings? So what? I can’t give up cheese and eggs.” Then he sent me the videos, and I decided to go vegan over night. Despite this, I am always afraid of showing these videos to others because of my first advocacy experience… which happened the night I saw those videos, or perhaps it was the night after. Anyway, I was basically like “how can you support this industry?” and I was a little bit hysterical and feeling traumatized from the whole thing, also advocating “humane meat” initially…. and people just didn’t care nearly as much as I did and said they needed to continue eating meat. You know.

    I have seen people walk out of a presentation as soon as anything negative was mentioned, so I really think the key is gaining the trust of the people you are showing the footage with. I want to be able to trust them, too, because it makes me feel awful if most of them don’t take it seriously. I also think it’s best to start by just simple things like comparing pets to farm animals, and if that’s not working, then take the next step. Since that first experience, I have only given the link to to one person I knew personally, and he decided to stop eating meat. I don’t even remember why I decided to give him the link.

    I have seen Earthlings, too. Once. Anyway, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with these videos… but they should be used strategically, just like any other form of activism… and because they are so powerful and unforgettable, it’s especially important. I also used to watch various other videos of different kinds of exploitation so I could learn about each kind. And yes, I did feel like I needed that to motivate me… those videos made me cringe and cry. When I watch those videos, I just feel very connected to that suffering… and likewise, when I watched a film called “Sex Slaves,” it didn’t show graphic imagery of women being raped, but it did show the women describing their experience in detail and for me made the whole thing so much more real and urgent.

    But that’s just me. There’s no sado-masochism about it, and perhaps I am more surprised than I should be to hear there are a lot of people for whom it is so. I think sado-masochism is what mainstream horror films are about. Disgust rather than sadness. And I don’t know why so few people object to fictional horror films that are literally all about the pleasure of the viewer but object to real horror films. I’m the other way around.

  15. Katie Says:

    Hi – I’m a regular reader of this site and, if you want to go there, a practicing “sado-masochist.”

    Comparing the slaughter of animals and/or this movie to people having consensual BDSM interactions is both really hurtful and really inaccurate. There are certainly kinky vegan folks, and while I am not one of them, I feel like they shouldn’t be marginalized either.

  16. GS Says:

    Earthlings… It has opened eyes
    It is fine

  17. Thanks for the post! This film is amazing and chocking… I found the entire movie Earthlings in Art Days, here is the link!

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