Who'da thunk it?
In the arsenal of weapons for animal rights activists, the camera is mightier than the pen. And the mightiest camera of all is the concealed camcorder.
Our brothers and sisters at Mercy for Animals have been scoring one major coup after another with their hidden camera videos. MFA has sent their activists right into the belly of the beast: Ohio Fresh Eggs (Ohio), E6 Cattle Ranch (Texas), Willet Dairy (New York).
MFA's videos depict horrors that are so ghastly, so stomach-turning, so violent and savage, that most people would not believe such things happened on a regular basis if they weren't captured on video. Animals are mutilated in every way imaginable: Cut. Burned. Slashed. Slammed in the head with hammers. They have their heads whacked against the ground.
And at the end of the road, we all know what happens to these animals. It's called murder. And even in those facilities where cruelty is not the norm, death is.
MFA's successful campaigns underscore the vital importance of video in our day and age.
Videos and the Internet. These are our greatest allies.
Almost 30 years ago, my father came home from the store with a massive Sony video camera. It was a cumbersome, metallic-silver shoebox shaped object with an enormous, phallic-shaped (sorry for this imagery) microphone jutting out above the lens. In order to use it, you had to connect it to a huge VCR with a shoulder strap that had to be lugged around on the shoulder wherever you went.
No way could you have used one of these suckers to film an undercover animal abuse video, unless you went into the slaughterhouse disguised as Quasimodo, hiding the equipment inside of your hunchback.
Flash forward 30 years. New technology has given rise to camcorders no bigger than little packages of Wrigley's spearmint gum. Tiny wired lenses can be hooked up to sleeves, gym bag straps, coat zippers, shoelaces, pant cuffs, shirt collars, etc. There are tiny cameras built into sunglasses. There are cameras that can be made to look like buttons.
These cameras don't need big, bulky, multi-directional microphones, like that ancient, Paleolithic video camera my dad bought 30 years ago. Now the mics are not much more than threads, built into the wiring, as thin as the fiber-optics that surgeons use nowadays.
The new generation of brave, undercover investigators have a perilous job to do, as tricky as any operations performed by spies during the Cold War era. You can't just walk into a plant and start filming atrocities. You have to go through an elaborate process of concocting an identity, applying for a job, building trust over time, and taking part in activities that are heartbreaking.
But if done right, these videos find their way to the outside world, onto Websites like http://www.mercyforanimals.org, or they become a part of films such as Earthlings or HBO's horrifying and uncompromising look at a pig facility, Death on a Factory Farm.
The word gets out. People slowly discover the truth. Veganism wins new converts.
There are some abolitionist animal rights purists who insist that organizations such MFA that target individual factory farms are conducing ineffectual "single issue" campaigns that lull people into believing that these are the worst offenders and that, once the industry is cleaned up and reformed, all meat will become "happy meat."
But there are a lot of people like me who see these images and we're shocked out of our complacency. I was pushed over to veganism by Death on a Factory Farm. It was about one factory farm in Ohio (by the way, why the hell is it that Ohio seems to be home to so many of the worst of these places?). The factory farm in this documentary was actually a slightly smaller operation, run by a father and his sons, with a relatively small crew of workers.
I suppose I could've watched it and vowed not to buy pork or ham from that particular establishment. "I eat only humanely slaughtered meat." That sort of baloney.
But Death on a Factory Farm proved to be a startling smack in the face that I desperately needed. Rather than condemning one individual, family-run operation, I suddenly recognized that the whole racket is based on murder, and the only way of disengaging is to stop buying animal products. Not just meat. Eggs, too. Milk, too. Cheese, too. Leather jackets and shoes, too.
Videos and the Internet. The Internet and Videos. What a potent combination. No wonder so many big meat producers are lobbying for strict punishments against undercover investigators. These whistleblowers are true heroes and heroines. They're the Frederick Douglasses and Sojourner Truths of our times. They deserve our thanks, for doing the sort of work that earlier generations of muckrakers used to do.
New technologies have worked in our favor. It may be too early to say that Omnivorism's days are numbered. But Veganism is winning over new converts partly because the evils of animal mass murder are getting to be harder and harder to conceal. Back when Sir Paul McCartney said, "If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian," it was much easier to hide these sorts of crimes.
The pilgrimage toward the fullness of our humanity begins when people can no longer look away from suffering. The new technology - especially hidden video cameras - haven't turned the walls into glass. But, when used properly, they have created portholes for us to glimpse inside of these deadly operations. They haven't eliminated the evils of denial and indifference. But they have transmitted powerful images of suffering through our televisions and computer screens. Those who decide to ignore these images do so at their own risk.