Animal Writes
21 February 2001 Issue
Why DawnWatch Has Not Protested Survivor

by [email protected] 

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 killing.

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 my God!"

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 exclusively, vegetarian.

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 quickly.

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,
Karen Dawn 

(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 [email protected] and 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.)

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