Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Not all videos are created equal...

A very well-intentioned Facebook friend of mine who is an ardent animal rights supporter from Malaysia posted a disturbing video on Facebook. It showed a man, presumably in China (it looks like a crowded city in China, and there are what appears to be Chinese characters on the bottom of the screen) carrying a yelping puppy toward a wall. The video started to give me the jitters just a few seconds into it. "This can't end well," I told myself.

It doesn't, either. The man holds the puppy by the back legs and begins slamming the poor animal against a wall. A crowd is starting to gather and, while the puppy is still quivering, the man cuts the puppy's throat open. My animal rights friend begged people to please repost the video. "The video shows pure evilness and cruelty," she wrote on her wall post.

I am not reposting the video here, even though I do post a lot of videos on this Blog. Certain videos, though, I just won't post. For example, I didn't repost the video of the young Bosnian girl throwing puppies into a rushing river that caused a recent global uproar. And I didn't repost the video of the nasty British woman pitching a poor cat into a dumpster in August that provoked a similar outcry. (A scene from that video is posted above.)

If I post a video, I insist that it have some educational value. Videos that show the cruelty that factory farm animals endure are educational. Videos that show appalling conditions in facilities that manufacture fur coats and other fur products are educational. Videos that show animals being abused on a large scale and in a systematic fashion are educational. All of these videos serve the same purpose. They show us what is happening behind the walls of industries - or, in some cases, private individuals - that exploit animals.

But videos that show individual human beings carrying out acts of random violence against animals feel more like exploitation. I have posted some videos of animal rescue workers finding large numbers of cats or dogs in appalling conditions, but these are also educational because they show us how far we need to go to take better care of our dog and cat populations.

Perhaps videos that show isolated acts of human cruelty are educational in some way. After all, it is helpful to know that there are insane people out there who harm human beings and animals. Oftentimes, though, my gut tells me these types of videos are exploitation and posting them on my Blog doesn't feel right. By exploitation, I mean sensationalist. Or videos that serve no other function than to shake up people or agitate or disturb them. When I was finished watching that awful Chinese puppy cruelty video, I can' t say I emerged from the experience enlightened. I simply felt shaken up and defeated. I don't know what happened to the heartless man in the video. Did he get punished? Did he walk away? Who the hell is he?

Some people might make the same argument about videos that show appalling conditions in factory farms or leather coat-making facilities or some other institutions that exploit and carry out violent acts against sentient nonhuman animals. What purpose do these videos serve? They're no good. Get rid of them. Quit posting them. That sort of thing.

And, as I said, there may even be those that insist that videos depicting isolated acts of human cruelty are educational. I guess it all boils down to one's own individual value system. Back in a 1964 Supreme Court case that had to do with pornography, Justice Potter Stewart - when pressed to define pornography, said, simply, "I know it when I see it."

In this instance, I'll fall back on Justice Stewart's simple definition. Please don't ask me to explain why one video feels more like exploitation than another. I just know it when I see it.

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