Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Few Thoughts on the Power of the Image

The reaction in the United States to the violent treatment of cows and calves at Conklin Dairy Farms in Ohio has been surprisingly strong. It is an indication that Americans are sick and tired of seeing animals being abused. None of this would've been possible - and those poor animals would likely still be victims of abuse and violence - without the trump card of hidden video.

The power of the image - both still and moving - cannot be underestimated. Images have transformed history. Ask any veteran of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States and she or he will tell you that photographs and film footage were the some of the movement's greatest resources.

Little has changed in the last fifty years. Today, hidden video is one of the most powerful - if not the most powerful - weapons in the arsenal of animal rights activists and vegans. Films and images have helped convert countless men and women to the cause. Speaking from personal experience, I converted to veganism after watching HBO's Death on a Factory Farm, a film about the appalling conditions in an Ohio pig farm. The scene of the pig hanging from a forklift (above) was particularly powerful. The film still haunts me to this day, especially the image of one of the workers (the son of the man who owns the facility) picking up a piglet by its back legs and slamming her head against a wall. He dumps the piglet into a garbage can, where the poor creature is captured on film quivering.

Since then, I've watched countless animal abuse videos. I keep telling myself, "You're a convert. You're firmly in the vegan camp. You don't stray. Why torture yourself?" But I keep subjecting myself to these images. And they always haunt. Images of dogs and cats who have suffered violent beatings; of skinned animals still alive; of female ducklings being gassed in a garbage bag at a facility that breeds ducks for foie gras (only male ducks are used, so females are put to death - but many are thrown into garbage cans still alive); of farm animals being slaughtered while still conscious; of a worker at a pet supply place filling a garbage bag with hamsters and slamming them against a table.

Believe me, I've seen some unbelievably violent film footage. And it always leaves me shaken and upset.

So why keep watching it? A lot of sensitive souls - omnivores, vegetarians and vegans alike - cannot bring themselves to watch these images. A friend on Facebook remarked that she couldn't bear to watch the terrible beatings of the cows and calves at the Conklin Dairy Farm.

Sometimes, I must admit, these films leave me feeling powerless and demoralized. They force me to take a hard look at the worst - the most depraved - side of humanity. That's why I take time out each day to search the Internet for the men and women who are fighting the good fight. There are plenty of them out there. They deserve our support.

These videos are vital because they tear down the wall of denial that we build around ourselves. The wall that surrounded me was high when I was an omnivore, but, like the Berlin Wall, the power of truth turned it to rubble.

And the reason I could no longer keep that wall in place was a powerful made-for-HBO documentary. It was troubling, hard to watch, and gave me nightmares. It also slapped me into awareness. As depressing and hopeless and brutal as it was, the film proved to be an instrument of hope. It won me over. It has undoubtedly won others over, too.

So it turns out that poor little piglet, dying the loneliest death imaginable in a garbage can, kicking her legs and quivering in her last moments of agony, did not die in vain.

1 comment:

  1. The murder of that pig by hanging was one of the most disturbing things I've ever seen. One can only hope that such things will, at some future point, only be seen as historical evidence of human ignorance and depravity. I was reminded of the lynchings that used to be so common in this "enlightened" country ( but are now only hardly remembered activities, memorialized mostly only on websites and in books.