Since DawnWatch is an animal advocacy media watch, my
silence about SURVIVOR has to be conspicuous. Many organizations have
condemned the slaying of a pig on last week's episode and asked that you
complain to CBS. I support all organizations working to help the animals
and would never discourage you from following their direction if you are
moved to do so. But I will share with you why DawnWatch policy with
regard to Survivor differs from some other organizations.
Unlike the American Humane Association which monitors
the treatment of individual animals used in the production of on screen
entertainment, DawnWatch looks at the big picture -- at the effect a
portrayal is likely to have on the rest of the animals who are not
featured on the screen.
The pig slaughter scene, though not graphic, was
upsetting. I was distressed, as I am sure many viewers were, to see this
little sentient creature being chased with a knife and to hear his
squeal as the first stab was made. It was very unpleasant to watch
Mike's repeated stabs and then his slicing motion,
presumably as he cut the throat. We did not see the pig during the
It was not a particularly humane slaughter. But those
who think it was particularly inhumane need to pick up a copy of Gail
Eisnitz's "Slaughterhouse." (I sell it on my website under Recommended
Reading.) Though we have humane slaughter laws which call for the
stunning of animals before execution, a stun gun miss rate of up to 5%
is considered acceptable in many slaughterhouses. Thus every day
hundreds of pigs may be sliced up and even thrown into vats of boiling
water while still conscious. The feral pig on Survivor lived a much
better life than all of those, and died no worse a death.
Plus, once again, though I felt much compassion for the
pig, DawnWatch is concerned not with the treatment of individual animals
on sets, but on the likely effect their portrayal will have on animals
as a whole.
Back to that portrayal:
Mike has gleefully made the kill. (Note: Mike earlier in the show
revealed himself to be repugnantly conniving, urging his tribe to
consume egg laying chickens they had won, rather than pace themselves
living off the eggs. He let only the camera know his motivation -- that
he and his hunting skills would be more needed as soon as the tribe was
starving again. Thus Mike is unlikely to be an audience favorite.)
The rest of the tribe show up and we all see the dead
pig. Nick, who helped corner the pig and has watched the killing says,
with no look of pleasure, "It was gross, it was very gross and brutal."
Elisabeth, arriving, exclaims, "Oh my God, this is like
a murder scene." She wails, hand over mouth, "Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh
That's how I feel every time I am invited to my family's
house and see what's for dinner. But when is the last time you saw a
reaction like that to a carcass on television? All I ever see is people
salivating over cooked animal parts.
When was the last time any connection was made on
television between the "meat" eaten by millions of viewers every day,
and each sentient being whose life was taken for a meal? Forgive my
answer, but I think it was during the last season of Survivor, when
there was a spirited discussion about the ethics of
wanting to eat chicken without having to face the execution.
Moreover, early in this week's episode, Colby, who has
also been hunting for a pig says, "I am bound and determined to put pork
on the plate before I leave this place."
Pork - live pig. How rarely I see or hear that
connection made in the media.
I am going to share with you a seminal moment in my
childhood. We sat down to the dinner table, where foods such as
hamburgers, hot dogs ("Not real dogs, sweetheart," my mother would
explain) and spare ribs were served nightly. But this night my mother
announced a treat -- we were having duck. Oddly, duck meat has no
euphemistic name. The food one eats goes by the name of the living
animal. I couldn't believe my ears. "Not ... not... ducky?" I asked in
horror. I left the table in tears. Yes, I continued to eat meat through
my youth -- even duck once -- but I know a seed was planted that day. As
soon as I had my own kitchen my meals became increasingly, and finally
I hope a lot of children saw Survivor last night. I hope
it saves the lives of a lot of pigs down the line.
"Don't we need to worry about viewers seeing scenes like
this and becoming desensitized to animal suffering?" On the contrary - I
think it is safe to say viewers are entirely desensitized to the
suffering of animals they see eaten on television shows every day.
People don't like to make the connection between
"meat" and animals. Any reminder is a good one.
"Isn't there a difference in killing a pig for food, or
as on Survivor, killing for entertainment?" No. For one thing the pig on
Survivor was eaten -- he was food. More importantly, countless studies
published in every major medical journal have shown that vegetarians are
healthier and live significantly longer than those who eat meats such as
pork on a regular basis. Thus, the mass consumption of pigs by a largely
obese society is based not on health or need but on pleasure; I'd call
that entertainment. It is a form of entertainment responsible for the
hideous lives and agonizing deaths of billions of animals every year.
I found the pig slaughter scene no more offensive than
the bacon burger ad I saw earlier in the evening. The advertisement had
a grave effect on not one but probably millions of animals.
For me, one of the most offensive parts of the show was
Kimmi the "vegetarian" reacting to the pig slaughter (vegetarian is in
quotes because she eats fish): "I cannot deal with you people. What is
wrong with you? This is a sick tribe."
Excuse me? I am vegan, and I am not calling Kimmi sick
because she eats fish. And for the first eighteen years of my life I ate
meat and I wasn't sick. Like most people, I avoided making the
connection between the consumption of meat and animal suffering. As I
started making that connection, I moved towards vegetarianism. Who
knows, perhaps a few episodes of Survivor would have moved me there more
Despite my disappointment with Kimmi's attitude, I was
delighted that the producers chose to include a "vegetarian" on this
round of Survivor. I am aware that this choice was probably spurred by
the mass protest the show received last season from animal rights
people. That is why I am not discouraging any of you from protesting the
animal killings if you are so moved. Survivor does offer an excellent
opportunity to publicize our cause; most of the animal advocacy groups
have jumped on the bandwagon.
It might have been a good political move for DawnWatch
to do the same. However, as one who believes that our cause is advanced
rather than thwarted by images connecting meat to animal suffering, I
could not, in good faith, protest what I have seen of Survivor. I hope
you now understand my choice, regardless of whether or not it will be
yours. After all, a wide range of tactics focused on the same goal will
make our movement blossom and grow.
Yours and the animals,
(DawnWatch is an animal rights media watch that looks at
animal issues in the media and facilitates one click responses to the
relevant media outlets. To subscribe to DawnWatch, email
tell me you'd like to receive alerts. If at any time you find DawnWatch
is not for you, just let me know via email and I'll take you off the
subscriber list immediately. If you forward or reprint DawnWatch alerts,
please include this tag line.)
Go on to The Politics
Return to 21 February 2001 Issue
Return to Newsletters
** Fair Use Notice**
This document may contain copyrighted material, use of which has not been
specifically authorized by the copyright owners. I believe that this
not-for-profit, educational use on the Web constitutes a fair use of the
copyrighted material (as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright
Law). If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your
own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright