Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Death of "Hollywood", Man v. Cheetah & Speciesism

Hollywood the friendly Elk, beheaded by a hunter
It's doubtful that the gruesome and senseless death of a remarkably friendly and peaceful elk from Cherokee County, Oklahoma named Hollywood will kick up much of a fuss in the mainstream American press.

There are any number of "top" stories, including the current snowstorm gripping the east coast of the United States, or the lead poisoning of the public water supply in Flint, Michigan that are understandably occupying the minds of most American citizens.

So why should people care about an elk?

For starters, Hollywood was no ordinary elk.

Almost nine-years-old, this charismatic creature got his name because of his unusual willingness to approach and even trust humans; and what many claim was an enjoyment of being photographed on the grounds of his home on the J.T. Nickel Family Nature and Wildlife Preserve located in eastern Oklahoma in Cherokee County.

As the director of the preserve Jeremy Tubbs observed in an interview with, "He was not just any elk, he was an elk that people looked for when visiting the preserve. He was commonly photographed by visitors, earning him the nickname Hollywood."

It was through an online petition addressed to the Talequah, Oklahoma police chief Nate King circulated through an email from that I first heard about Hollywood; and I hope you'll take a few moments to click the link above and sign it.

Obviously licensed hunters have a right to hunt elk or deer in season where it is legal to do so.

Responsible hunters, particularly those who properly butcher the animal's remains to use as food rather than just taking it for a trophy kill, actually help to cull herds in some areas where overgrazing and overpopulation might lead to some animals starving in the winter - or getting hit by cars or trucks while searching for food.

But Hollywood and his herd of fellow elk were intentionally placed on the sprawling 17,000 acre preserve in the Ozark mountain range as part of an effort to reintroduce elk to an area of the Ozarks where over-hunting had wiped out elk populations more than 150 years ago.

Hollywood was a bull elk placed there as part of a carefully planned process to reintroduce a viable elk population into a natural environment where they belong; and hunting on the preserve where he lived with his herd is expressly forbidden - so his death at the hands of the still-unknown cowardly hunter is a crime on a number of levels.

Cecil the lion in Hwange National Park, 2010
Like millions of people around the globe, I felt the same sense of outrage about the death of Cecil the lion back in the summer of 2015.

After Walter Palmer, a dentist from Minnesota, paid a tracker named Theo Bronkhorst $50,000 to lure a well-known 13-year-old male lion named Cecil off of the protective sanctuary of the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, Africa, he shot this father of numerous lion cubs with an arrow, then tracked him for 40 hours before finally killing and beheading him for a trophy.

Palmer and Bronkhorst left Cecil's headless carcass on the ground and had the nerve to also take the GPS tracking collar that the Wildlife Conservation Unit of Oxford University had used to track and monitor Cecil since 2008.

Sadly, Cecil's horrific death was not an anomaly.

As a Wikipedia article about Cecil's death reports, of the 62 different lions that Oxford's WCU tagged, tracked and monitored in Hwange National Park since 1999, a staggering 24 of them were killed by hunters who killed them for sport.

According to Wikipedia, "Of adult male lions that were tagged inside the park, 72% were killed through sport hunting on areas near the park."

Donald Trump's sons after one of their many kills
Why is it that some people seem obsessed with the need to brutally slaughter animals that are rare, endangered or completely harmless to humans?

Take, for example, Donald Trump's two sons, Donald Jr. and Eric Trump (pictured left). 

The Republican presidential candidate's male offspring have used their sense of entitlement and inherited wealth to live out a truly psychologically twisted macho-big-game-hunter fantasy by traveling the world killing among other things, a cheetah, a leopard, an African elephant and a cape buffalo.

Considering the fact that their openly racist, anti-immigrant fuhrer father is running for the highest office in the land, it's relevant to note that it's well established by scores of psychological experts, sociologists and members of law enforcement that "Animal Abuse Indicates High Risk of Psychopathic Disorder."

In the case of both Hollywood the elk and Cecil the lion, these animals were mature adults who lived on protected nature preserves, were very well known locally as being tolerant of humans and willing to let themselves be approached for photos or be observed - these were clearly emotionally intelligent sentient beings.

So what is going on inside the minds of people like the Trump spawn and dentist Walter Palmer who pay tens of thousands of dollars to use weapons to take the lives of innocent animals in order to pose for photographs with the carcasses then take parts of the bodies home as gruesome trophies to mount on a wall to document the horror?

An email I received from Dr. Emily Plec back on December 16, 2015 offers some valuable insight.

Dr. Plec is a professor of communication studies at Western Oregon University who teaches rhetoric, media, intercultural and environmental communication, and is the former director of the Oregon State Board of Higher Education.

She's also an activist and scholar in areas that include prison sentencing reform, racism, gender equity, animal rights and interspecies communication.

National Geographic Channel's "Man v Cheetah"
Dr. Plec contacted me through my blog email to let me know that she had cited a quote from a blog I published back on January 1, 2013 in an academic article she published entitled:

"(Black) Man v Cheetah: Perpetuations and transformations of the rhetoric of racism"

I wrote the blog in 2013 after hearing college football TV commentator and former NFL head coach Jon Gruden use the word "beast" to compliment former University of South Carolina All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney during a live telecast on ABC of a New Years Day bowl game against Michigan.

She came upon my Gruden blog while searching for a particular quote and discovered that I'd used a quote of hers (which I of course attributed to her) that was taken from a paper she'd written entitled, "The Great White Hype: Rhetoric and Racial Biology In the Coverage of the 1968 Olympic Protest".

The conclusion of my blog on Gruden used a quote from her paper to summarize a point I was attempting to make about how the differences in the choice of words that some television sports announcers use to describe black versus white athletes has the unintended consequence of reinforcing what she described as "dehumanizing animal metaphors" that reinforce distorted racial myths that have been used in American popular culture for decades.  

Dr. Plec in turn used a quote from my blog in her paper "(Black) Man v Cheetah", her paper is included in a book that was published in November 2015 entitled, "Critical Animal and Media Studies: Communication For Non-Human Animal Advocacy".        

The book, as Taylor and describes, "aims to put the speciesism debate and the treatment of non-human animals on the agenda of critical media studies and to put media studies on the agenda of animal ethics researchers. Contributors examine the convergence of media and animal ethics from theoretical, philosophical, discursive, social constructionist, and political and economic perspectives."

This 296-page book also outlines "the different disciplinary approaches' application to media studies and covering how non-human animals, and the relationship between humans and non-humans, are represented by the mass media, concluding with suggestions for how the media, as a producer of major cultural norms and values related to non-human animals and how we treat them, might improve such representations."

I am admittedly quite flattered that a brief quote from my blog was deemed worthy of being included in such an academic publication.

But I am much more intrigued by the concept of speciesism (which I'd never heard of until Dr. Plec emailed me a copy of her paper "(Black) Man v Cheetah" to review) and it's relation to racism and sexism.

The term Speciesism was first used by Richard D. Ryder and later popularized by Princeton University professor and moral philosopher Peter Singer.

Speciesism is loosely defined as "the idea that being human is a good enough reason for human animals to have greater moral rights than non-human animals...a prejudice or bias in favor of the interests of members of one's own species and against those of members of other species."

In the introduction of her essay, Dr. Plec juxtaposes the image of Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens returning to America after the 1936 Olympiad in Berlin and, for a time, earning money by being matched in exhibition races against horses and dogs, to her watching NFL player Devin Hester being matched against a cheetah on the National Geographic Channel show, Man v Cheetah.

As she observes "These events are stitched together in my mind, as bookends to a cultural narrative preoccupied with the juxtaposition of black male athletes and nonhuman animals, obsessed with racing black men against other animals for the amusement of predominantly white spectators and to determine the hierarchy of physical ability for these representatives of systematically oppressed groups" 

Dr. Plec's fascinating article offers a complex analysis that ranges over a lot of intellectual territory and it's intended for an academic audience.

So rather than attempt to review or even summarize her essay (which I'm not qualified to do), I will say this.

Walter Palmer, killer of Cecil the lion
Her focus "on two faces of the fractal complexity of injustice and inequality, racism and speciesism" and her intent to delve deeper into "these interconnections between racism and speciesism, looking at how a contemporary mass media text, "Man v. Cheetah," participates in the (re)construction of a relationship that has, historically, been a strategy for dehumanizing people of color." helped me to gain insight. 

Specifically into what might possess people like the unknown hunter in Oklahoma who killed Hollywood the elk, or Walter Palmer who killed Cecil the lion, or Donald Trump's son's who travel the globe to pay money to kill endangered animals then proudly photograph themselves standing over the carcasses, to engage in such behavior.

It also prompted me to look differently at football analyst Jon Gruden's tendency to favor animal metaphors to describe the characteristics of football players; like calling someone a "beast", or saying that someone "comes from good stock."

In my 2013 blog, I viewed Gruden's comments in the context of race, but Dr. Plec views such comments from a much broader perspective that's based on how the issues of racism, sexism and speciesism are all interrelated - even if mainstream media, like most people, don't view them that way. 
As she notes of Lisa A. Kemmerer's 2011 examination of the interconnectedness of sexism, racism, homophobia and speciesism entitled "Sister Species: Women, Animals and Social Justice" :

"Kemmer;s collection 'Sister Species takes up a fundamental premise of this project: that "animal liberation is inextricably linked with other social causes. Or, as the Combahee River Collective concluded, "the major systems of oppression are interlocking." Put differently, Loyd-Paige writes in "Sister Vegan": "All social inequalities are one is on the sidelines."

In short, Dr. Plec's writings have prompted me to reexamine my own perspective in terms of some of the things I blog about. 

The word marginalize (according to the handy Merriam-Webster app on my iPhone) is defined as
 "to put or keep (someone) in a powerless or unimportant position within a society or group."

Whether it be racism, sexism, ageism, or classism, the intentional marginalization of people based on their race, gender, age or social class, "isms"are a frequent topic of this blog not just because they are issues I care about deeply, but because of the impact they have on this country and the larger human condition.

As someone who was raised to respect animals by parents who grew up with them, I've always been an animal rights guy.

Over the course of my adulthood I've adopted four different rescue cats (at different times) not just because I like cats, but because I also firmly believe humans have a responsibility as caretakers and friends of animals and the planet.

But Dr. Plec's writings have helped me understand that the "isms" I blog about so frequently must also include non-humans as well.

I need to look closer at how the poisoning of the water supply in the predominantly African-American city of Flint, Michigan, the rate of sexual assault of young women in college or the military, a swastika being spray painted on the door of a synagogue, or the killing of an unarmed, innocent African-American by a police officer are all related to the senseless killing of a friendly elk named Hollywood.

Or a lion named Cecil, or someone who intentionally physically abuses a dog or cat; or keeps a Killer Whale in captivity to make it do tricks to entertain people.

As Dr. Plec quotes from "Sistah Vegan" "All  Social inequalities are one is on the sidelines."

So when I read the story about Donald Trump having gone onto Twitter on Friday to retweet a message from a white supremacist who goes by the Twitter name @WhiteGenocideTM who believes (among other things) that "Hitler saved Europe", it makes his two son's obsession with killing endangered animals make a little more sense.

In the same way their father sees himself as being inherently superior to other people who don't have white skin, don't agree with what he thinks, or are not from America, his two son's belief that their being human entitles them to senselessly kill animals are related.

Related not just to how they see themselves, but how they see other living beings; both human and non-human.

Perhaps if Donald, Jr., Eric Trump, Walter Palmer and the unknown person who brutally took the life of Hollywood the elk had been raised to view other living things with more respect and a basic sense of compassion, then a few more animals might be walking the earth right now.

As is their right to do.

On a final note, in light of the topic of this blog, I was happy to read The New York Times story about a resourceful cow named Freddie who'd been scheduled to die in a slaughterhouse in Queens on Thursday, but instead escaped into the streets and made a leisurely run for freedom before being rounded up by NYPD officers from the 103rd precinct. 

As the Times article reported, Mike Stura, the founder of Skylands Animal Sanctuary and Rescue in Wantage, New Jersey picked up the cow and transported it back to his animal sanctuary where he said the lucky cow
"would enjoy 'a life of leisure' being cared for alongside 'cow friends'."

I think Hollywood and Cecil would approve, too bad they couldn't make it there too.

1 comment:

SRTforums said...

So is the fact that black men are predominantly taken in speed positions in the NFL "racist"? Given that it is talent in many instances, as in running speed, jumping ability, pure strength, that leads to a player being drafted in the NFL, is it racist to judge a person solely on ability? No. Because the stopwatch doesn't lie. The bench press is the same weight regardless of who lifts the weight. Everyone starts at 0'0" when doing the vertical leap. How many caucasians have won the 100 meters in any international event by percentage in the last 30 years? Is that racism? So the factual knowledge that black men have held the title of "fastest man on earth" for a considerable amount of time, if you were to do a documentary that pits a human versus an animal in a contest of pure speed, why would you choose differently? Would an NFL general manager select a 5'8" white guy who runs a 4.9 40-yard dash over a 6'3" black guy who runs a 4.5, with the only consideration being physical ability? Only if the position was kicker, or punter. We unfortunately live in a society that has culturally brainwashed itself into believing an entire race of people is victimized, by skin color alone. It is a monstrous tragedy, because when given a choice of hard work, determination, and personal responsibility vs claiming racism, bigotry, and victim mentality, the latter wins out nearly every time, even in situations that bear no ill will towards the group in question. This television show certainly fits that bill. Rather than recognize the fact that athletic talent is used as a determination of skill to pit a human against one of the fastest animals on earth, you fall back on "victim status" once again. It is this sort of mentality that causes common folk, asian, white, hispanic, even many blacks, to fail to recognize real racism where it actually exists, because you are so patently unable to separate yourself from the fictional mentality that EVERYTHING is racism.