Saturday, May 1, 2010

Do Documentaries Violate the Privacy of Animals?

Dr. Brett Mills at the University of East Anglia in the UK makes an interesting argument. He insists that wildlife documentaries violate the privacy of animals. Mills, who is based in the university's Film and Television Department, believes that it is not "fair game" to film animals in their natural habitat. "We see it as unethical and wrong to secretly film people - we say it's not allowed," he says. The same rule, he thinks, should apply to animals. "The question constantly posed by wildlife documentaries is how animals should be filmed; they never ask whether animals should be filmed at all." (Source)

I have mixed feelings about Mills' position. I partially agree with him and partially don't. Animals should have the right to privacy, just as they should have a host of other rights that are systematically denied to them by human beings. He won't get much of an argument from me on that point. But wildlife documentaries serve an important function. To the degree that we empathize with animals, often it has to do with these wildlife films we've watched at various points in our lives that help us to understand the behavior and lives of animals. Moreover, with all the ghastly things being done to animals in the world today on a mass scale - within the walls of the factory farm system, by the fur and leather industries, by animal abusers, by large fish farming enterprises, etc. - the act of simply filming animals seems downright innocuous by comparison.

When the majority human beings reach a stage in their development that they empathize with all animals (not just dogs and cats) on a deeper level - or maybe I should say, if human beings reach that stage - then we can talk about whether we want to cease making these types of films and enact laws to protect the privacy of animals. But with all of the horrors being committed against animals in the world today, halting the filming of wildlife documentaries ought to be considered a low priority for animal advocates everywhere.

1 comment:

  1. "Animals should have the right to privacy, just as they should have a host of other rights that are systematically denied to them by human beings."

    Do non-human animals show any sort of discernible interest in having privacy though? I don't think they do. Surely if they willingly defecate, fornicate, scratch/lick their genitalia etc. in public for all the world, and its inhabitants, to see, they don't exactly mind if a human observes them through the innocuous lense of a video-camera?

    Andrew, I am scanning your blog from the beginning as I only recently came across it, so I regret that my reply comes four months after it was posted.