PETA is all over the news and activist network calling for protests against The Hobbit, claiming animal cruelty during the filming. I’m sorry, I often support real animal rights causes, and PETA has done useful work over the years, but they are an activist organization whose goal is winning with propaganda, not seeking truth, and this whole thing smells funny.
PETA shows a picture of a dead horse in its urgent mailing — an image I didn’t need to see any more than tortured puppies or aborted fetuses; I consider all such marketing equally repulsive and unforgivable — and then says 27 animals died. What they don’t tell you is how many of those 27 animal deaths were horses. They’re hoping for the unthinking assumption that it’s 27 horses. They also don’t tell you over what period of time this occurred. This movie was a huge production that lasted over a year and a half. As best I can tell from various reports the actual count is three horses, six goats, six sheep and a dozen chickens — yes chickens.
Of the three horses, one drowned accidentally in a stream while being held on a nearby farm, one was injured on that same farm and euthanized, and one died of entirely natural causes. When the production company learned of the injuries on this particular farm, they investigated, spent a bunch of money trying to improve it, and ultimately dropped it. Some of the goats and sheep died died of injuries, but most died from worms or from complications from changes in feed — both typical problems for animals that relocate and have trouble adapting. The chickens, if you were wondering, were gotten by dogs. (This Entertainment Weekly report gives a pretty good breakdown of the details.)
Do you think if they announced that 12 chickens were killed by dogs they’d get much publicity? Chickens, which are slaughtered by the thousands every day for food in this country. Or even, sad though it is, that two horses died of injuries over the course of a year and a half? I would not be at all surprised if the animal deaths were within the normal range over the course of a year and a half of production of animals being housed and moved around and such. The question here that PETA wants to confuse us about is how much this number 27 over 18 months differs from what would be normal for a film production, or normal for everyday life.
My understanding is that PETA is basing its testimony on the claims of two disgruntled animal handlers who were fired from the production a year ago, and that this was related to investigating one particular farm where some of the animals were being housed, which led to dropping it from the production. The timing of PETA’s accusations and protests, just before the premiere, is a publicity stunt, which is of course what PETA does. They justify the use of publicity stunts because it gets their message on the media and raises awareness. Similarly a friend of mine was one of the ACT-UP members who just stripped naked in Speaker Boehner’s office — making some point about the fiscal cliff; I’m not quite sure what. They got on the news. So are they right? Do activist groups serve the greater good by using publicity stunts and propaganda rather than seeking truth? I think this kind of stuff harms innocent people and projects and further coarsens the conversation, but I have plenty of friends who disagree.
PETA’s suggests we should no longer use animals in films at all, but instead use “sophisticated computer-generated imagery” in the future because we can. This is laughable. Why not get rid of human actors for the same reason? The underlying premise behind the idea no animal injuries are acceptable is the PETA principle that the animals didn’t choose to be involved — part of a broader view that all animals in human control are slaves, including not just livestock and these movie animals but also pets. Since that is not a view held by many Americans, PETA instead tries to create sensational tragic appeals that bypass reasoning.
A decade ago there were accusations, later found to be false by New Zealand officials, that horses were abused during the making of Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings films, and there’s more than a hint here that there’s an attempt at vindication/revenge by PETA aimed at Peter Jackson.
So I suggest everyone approach these accusations with a very skeptical eye. I’m open to learning more, but only from unbiased sources, not propagandists.