Dumb cluck. Fat sow. Stupid cow. People use mockery to distance themselves from animals, in order to make their abuse less ethically troubling. In the same way, people mockingly apply animal terms to people they want to exploit or displace. Farmed animals are especially likely to be mocked. Every year, it seems, some new spectacle of chicken abuse is put forward as good, clean, family fun.
Whether or not they are explicitly mocking, all uses of animals in sport or entertainment are inherently hurtful and degrading. Animals in circuses are deprived of their liberty, “trained” by abusive methods, and then forced to display their degradation for the enjoyment of others, unwilling participants in a spectacle of power and control.
Animals in zoos and aquariums are also deprived of liberty, unable to choose their own companions or range as widely as they would in nature. Many suffer painful isolation from others of their species and many, like circus animals, are beaten or otherwise abused by their allegedly benevolent keepers.
Zoos and aquariums teach young visitors that animals exist for their enjoyment and encourage them not to notice suffering. (Many children feel confused when they notice the distress of zoo animals but are assured by their parents or caregivers that the animals are happy.) Zoos designed as if they were wildlife habitats offer a spectacle of human control over nature, promoting the ecologically nonsensical notion that people can recreate an African Savanah in the American Midwest or a polar region in the deep South.
Zoos carry forward the history of imperialist domination of nature and other people. As Ginger Baker explains:
The history of animal display begins with the menagerie, a collection of beasts used since ancient times as a sign of princely power and dominance. The Romans introduced the idea to the West, bringing tigers, elephants, snakes, and other exotic fauna back to the capital as symbols of conquest. Other heads of state followed suit.
Sometime in the mid-nineteenth century, with the rise of an urban working class, animal displays evolved a new purpose, transcending the crass display of dominance and shifting their focus to education…. scholars have attacked this alleged transformation from intimidation to education. In reality, debunkers say, the display of animals is always underwritten by social, political, and economic imperatives. Modern zoos still operate as signs of dominance, bearing witness now to civic pride rather than princely power.
Early European and American zoos often also included displays of African, Asian, and Native American people. The Congolese man Ota Benga, for example, was displayed in the monkey house at the Bronx Zoo. Just as modern zoos do today, this use of captive living beings as entertaining spectacles was excused by the guise of education.
Members of the Field of Dreams Hunting Club float in an outsized rubber ducky, firing into the air to warn the ducks away from the real hunter
Hunting, fishing, rodeos, animal fighting, horse racing, and other “sports” that pit animals against people or each other also hurt animals while promoting degenerate values. Sport hunting and fishing are, by definition, killing for fun. Rodeos and bullfights showcase sadistic acts of dominion as demonstrations of heroic masculinity. Animal fighting, whether with dogs or chickens, exposes animals to extreme terror and danger so that the men on whose behalf they fight can feel more masculine.
Many parents who take their children hunting or fishing claim that this is a way to introduce them to nature. Why not take non-violent hikes instead? Rather than tracking animals to kill, involve children in bird watching or competing to see who can spot the greatest number of different insects or edible wild plants. Instead of the constructed environment of a zoo or aquarium, visit a real wildlife preserve where they can see and learn about local flora and fauna. To foster genuine care and concern for animals, visit sanctuaries and refuges rather than zoos. Encourage older children to volunteer at a local animal shelter or sanctuary.
Readings and Resources
- Free Dumbo! Zoos Are Bad For Elephants — Time Magazine report on recent study concerning the ill health and reduced lifespan of captive elephants
- Do Fish Have Feelings Too? — The Guardian reports that 90% of fish in aquariums show abnormal behavior indicative of stress
- Zoos and the End of Nature — Steve Best on zoos and the imperialist power project
- Can Man Improve on Nature’s Fishbowl? (pdf) — The New York Times examines critiques of aquariums
- Age of Aquariums (pdf) — Ginger Baker on the cultural and ecological history of zoos and aquariums
- Literature (for adults and children) on animals in entertainment
- Rooster Rehab: An Ecofeminist Project — Informal account of our ground-breaking work with birds used in animal fighting
- The Moral and Conceptual Universe of Cockfighters — An ethnographic study
- The Empathy Project — “Catch and release” is torture. Fish have feelings too!