Boy howdy is this whole subject a great big mess of unpleasant feelings lately! Good news, though, after a whole week of ruminating on animal cruelty, Blackfish and the depiction of animals in the media, we get to do another week of the same thing and that’s going to be fun. So while we’re here, I’m going to talk about an animal rights issue that is actually quite dear to my heart because it features my favourite animals, humans.
Well okay I’m kinda more fond of dogs.
When is the last time in a piece of media you saw a vegeterian character conveyed neutrally or positively? I admit I don’t watch tons of television any more but I do watch enough to know when a lot of what we consider cheap hackey writing in television programs now was codified as nice and easy to generate. I remember when vegeterianism first burst onto the sitcom scene where almost every single time it came up, the person who it represented was a tool. It was always introduced for one of three basic reasons:
- This character is annoying and their food preferences are regarded as irritating
- This character is a hypocrite and their food preferences are a moral failing
- This character is quirky and their food preferences have no actual reasoning
I saw this a lot, and it was cemented further by the way that the rise of animal rights groups like PETA took the name and branding of animal rights and did a bunch of ridiculous stuff with it in the name of making everyone feel really bad about eating meat, which was counterproductive when it became obvious that PETA were pretty silly people and even moreso when it became kinda cool and edgy to be mad at vegeterians online.
Some great sources of media mass consumption – not ‘mass media consumption’ but consumption of media in a very massive, unreasoned form – like reddit and imgur allow for people to earn a lot of demotically-reinforced personal validation for shortly phrased visually expressed opinions that dismiss vegetarians as all a bunch of stupid jerks who don’t know nothing and must be really silly and dumb and let’s throw rocks at them. These kind of websites are the sort of media pipeline, a way to just hook yourself up to the memes and let them drip into your eyeballs, and that makes them a great way to get a feel for a particular area’s memeplex. It’s not a very bright one, it’s often very self-satisfied and all, but it is a culture, and it is media and it tends towards a sort of general nerd-culture baseline. Know what that nerd-culture baseline seems to think? Vegetarians are annoying.
This is not to say vegeterians are shown to be whole people with opinions whose opinions are formed reasonably. They’re rather shown to be a sort of one-note-punch-clock joke. They aren’t shown as integrating meaningfully in their environment – sometimes characters are indicated as vegeterian in the background information, but never enough to contrast with the overwhelming media face of vegeterianism as hypocritical or stupid.
Now there are of course, a lot of complex positions in play here, and I do not mean to dictate what people do or should eat (as I am, myself, neither a vegeterian nor a prescriptivist about other human’s diets), but what really kicks me in the shins about this is that I still can’t think of an example of a vegeterian who is a whole character outside of their food preferences, and where those food preferences are respected. It’s like a sure-fire way to be signalled as being, well, an annoying jerk.
Now as to deeper reasons for that, I will suggest this piece by Hank Green which is quite useful and a sort of much-shorter version of Peter Singer’s talk. It’s an example of a cultural rift, in which an other is introduced and given a face or voice in media primarily to make them an object of scorn, which is, really, not very nice, and makes our media poorer, and it devalues any point that vegeterian people actually have.
What makes this even more complex is that there are people from within the vegeterian population who are really not happy with other people who wear their label, people who advocate for such strange ideas as terrorist acts on abbatoirs or mass murder of pet animals, which are really weird ideas, but because the typical vegeterian is shown in media to be two-dimensional, we are still left with these ideas, these people who maybe do deserve to have their ideas held up as weird and wrong and harmful, they are instead folded into a larger group that can hold all sorts of people who do things for a variety of reasons, many of which do not involve being a smug jackass.
And I can guarantee if I get a comment on this it will be someone saying ‘yeah but I love bacon but’ because gosh
isn’t it easy to make fun of vegeterianism.
The day we did the tutorial on poverty tourism/poverty porn, I was late to class. I was late to class, because I was up late the previous night trying to do as much work as I could on my other subjects while trying to manage the reading for the lecture, which I missed because there’s a scheduling conflict between the lecture and another one of my classes. There’s a scheduling conflict between them because I had to stack my classes together as close as possible, so I didn’t have to make multiple bus trips into uni across the whole week. I need to avoid that so I can save money, the dollar fifty it will cost me to make that extra trip, into town, if Centrelink needs me for some emergency meeting, and I need that because if we mess up that finance, then there’s a breach on my record, I need to get in there fast or we might miss a rent payment and lose status with the landlord who might then use that to draw against us and get us thrown out of our house, which we can’t afford to empty, which we can’t afford to replace.
None of this is really true. Or rather, it feels true. I do stack my classes. I do pinch pennies on the bus. But our financial situation is not so dire. My wife is working now. I am a full-time uni student and Centrelink are more understanding of my situation if I say I have to attend classes.
The voice is still there. The fear that I’m one misstep in the beaurocracy from starting an avalanche that leaves me on the street, desperate needing help from family – who also can’t afford it – for the costs of resetting up a house, or something legal, or worse. Bad things can happen because someone petty who has a job had a bad day, or screwed up your paperwork.
Poverty changes you. It deforms you. It leaves a deep, painful mark on you.
Poverty porn isn’t just for the satisfied people.
It isn’t just for the people who are out of it.
For the people stuck in the cycles, it both nourishes us and disgraces us. We can look down on people who are the same as us and say well at least we’re not –.
At least we’re not drug addicts.
At least we’re not homeless.
At least we don’t have dementia.
At least, at least, at least.
It impresses upon you that there’s something grungy about you, something nasty. You smell funny, you move funny, you’re on public transport too much. You see people looking at you as you go to interviews, and slink back home, in the same squeaky interview clothes. As you exist, media tells you everyone can tell and everyone is judging you. So you compensate. You compensate as best you can. You don’t want to be one of those illiterate poor people that can’t talk clearly, doesn’t know what’s going on in the world, doesn’t understand specialty subjects.
You volunteer information because when you’re in one of those Jobfind meetings and it’s nothing but dead silence you know the person who can get your income cut off is thinking what a bunch of losers. You respond to every question with an uncertain I guess because if you say something definite and just get it wrong, they might call you to task for it and get treated like a stupid seven year old in front of adults.
Then people take you aside and explain to you things you already know, and you have to nod and smile because you don’t want to be uncooperative. They tell you it’s for your own good, that they care about you, that it’s about your place in the workplace, and how it’s probably best for you to do things this way, while you’re sitting there wondering what you might step on if you say something wrong in this. You don’t wanna be labelled ‘argumentative.’ Helpful until you’re told to stop. Outgoing until you’re told it’s annoying.
It’s very, very tricky to escape this feeling. Even explaining it can require people to make an empathic leap that they don’t have to, and involves opening up to the grinding, living depression and drudgery that is ‘bludging on the dole.’ When you’ve seen the system from the inside, being able to look at people in the same situation and say I know the kind of things these people are dealing with.
I’m not planning on submitting this blog for assessment.