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When media help you meet your meat - The LAMP

When media help you meet your meat

By July 28, 2008 News No Comments

Have you switched to organic food yet?

Do you think grass-fed beef is tastier? Or healthier?

Have you gushed about how good cage-free eggs are?

Or perhaps, someone just told you that commercially available milk is produced by cows that are fed beef?

The Animal Rights movement is not new. So is the campaign to switch to sustainable food. We’ve read about the issue, seen footage from hidden cameras, seen photographs of animals in meat factories. The movement is part of advertisements, celebrity endorsements, even a community on your social networking website. We’ve seen it all. Almost.

Documentary films? The idea may not be very original. After all, a documentary film is just a collection of clippings, you might say. But Earthlings (2005) is, arguably, the most compelling film ever to be made on the exploitation of the animal world by us humans not only for food, but also for clothing, entertainment, scientific research and to serve as pets. (The film is in segments: Part I, Part II, Part III.) Adding a celebrity touch is the narration by Joaquin Phoenix and the music by Moby.  Undercover investigations exploring this issue are not new, but never before has such footage been compiled into such a comprehensive commentary. calls the film ‘thought provoking,’ but it’s much more than that. It is heart-wrenching. It makes you feel the pain of the animals. By juxtaposing images of the second World War, the Holocaust and the KKK with equally, if not more, unpleasant images of miserable, tortured animals, the film aims to show a parallel between racism and the ‘speciesim’ human beings are guilty of when they subjugate other inhabitants of the planet.

These are images that will stay with you long after you watch the film, as they did with me. I can’t think of too many people who will want to watch it again–that is, if they are able to finish watching it the first time. Earthlings is proof of our  collective guilt and human beings don’t like to be told they are monsters. We are kind and gentle, aren’t we? We are fair and merciful. The guilt is overpowering for some. For others, the images are too gross to digest. Feeling gross inspires quite a different set of reactions, one of which may be to stop watching the film. The film may have aimed for sadness, for a feeling that some injustice is being meted out, a feeling of a burdened conscience. However, if you feel sick, you will feel just that and nothing else. Consequently, after the grossness has passed, you will slather your factory produced sausages with ketchup.

And now on to some humor and some animation. The Meatrix series is a spoof on the extremely popular Matrix series (of course!). The protagonist is the pig Leo who joins the trench coat clad cow, Moopheus and the stylish hen, Chickity, in a mission to abolish factory farming and revive the good old family farm. Each of the three films in the series (The Meatrix, The Meatrix 2, The Meatrix 2.5) is a funny Flash animation about 4 minutes long (well under the 95 minute run time of Earthlings).

The Meatrix is about an issue that Earthlings also touches upon: Factory farming. Factory farming treats animals as commodities to be exploited and results not only in unimaginable animal cruelty, but also in grave health risks for people who consume mass produced animal products and in irreparable environmental pollution. The message of these films is loud and clear: Factory farming is bad. Switch to sustainable food. Support family farms. The film also clearly enumerates the ‘Whys’: Why have humans turned to factory farming? Why is factory farming bad? Why should we go back to family farms? The films are humorous. They’re short.  They’re educational sans the blood and bones, and they’re also kid friendly.

While Earthlings focuses on the animals and the their systematic torture by human beings, The Meatrix’s focus is primarily on how factory farming is bad for people and how we can eat and live healthy by supporting family farms. Earthlings is definitely the more poignant and moving of the two, but The Meatrix is certainly more pleasant and less guilt inducing. Which explains why many people I know liked it better. Earthlings is probably the adult version of The Meatrix. While both the films are about similar issues, the approach, like the focus is quite different. Earthlings goes for your heart. The Meatrix goes straight for your brain. Some would says ‘appeals to emotions’ Vs. ‘appeals to logic’. And some would take that to mean ‘appeals to women’ Vs. ‘appeals to men’. But I am not going there!

Earthlings and The Meatrix are wonderful examples of the fact that the media can and often do serve as the call to action on many issues. Or not. It might work with some and utterly fail with others, but it cannot be denied that the films are of tremendous potential and value. You might choose to watch Earthlings or The Meatrix, or both, or neither. You might be moved to act or not. But you certainly can’t help feeling a twinge of something: concern for the earthlings or concern for yourself.

And that is a sign that these media matter.

–Radhika Ramesh