Sunday, October 27, 2013

There is a difference. There is.

All the arguments to prove man's superiority cannot shatter this hard fact:
in suffering the animals are our equals.
Peter Singer

A couple months ago, my husband and I joined a new gym. And yes, we actually show up there pretty regularly! We like the new gym. The demographic skews to folks much older than we are. I see one senior citizen who - no lie -  hobbles from one machine to the next using a cane. More power to him, right? Some days, P and I are the youngest, hottest people there. And that's saying something.

My old gym had a wall of televisions, set to a variety of stations. All of the cardio equipment faced the wall o'TVs. You could just choose one, tune in, and listen via your headphones. The new gym features televisions as well, but they are mounted on various walls and at various angles throughout the cardio area.

During my second week there, I hopped onto a treadmill without paying too much attention to the TV that was mounted directly in front of the treadmill I happened to choose. I started walking (you know, as one does) and soon noticed that the TV was tuned to a hunting show. Great, just great. I looked at the time and realized that the show would likely end in about ten minutes. I figured I could just suck it up until then. I was listening to my music but it was a challenge not to look at the screen that was mounted just about three feet from my face.  Finally, it was 10:00 a.m. and the show ended. Whew! Well, guess what came on next? A show called "Meat Eater." From what I could gather, this guy kills the animals, rips them apart dramatically on screen, and then feeds them to his friends. What spice goes best with murder? Ugh.

Since I was new there, I wasn't sure of the protocol for getting a channel changed. I hopped off the treadmill and jogged over to the front desk to ask. The front desk lady was talking to a man who was evidently thinking of joining (he was 60+ so I'm sure he'll love it) and it seemed like this was going to take a while. So, not wanting my heart rate to drop too much, I jogged back to the treadmill and hopped back on. It was no small feat to avoid looking at that screen until I was done with my workout. After, I asked at the front desk about the channel-changing protocol. It turns out that any member can grab a remote control and change the channel, although of course they suggest that you might check with the others around you.

Fast forward to yesterday. I got to the gym in the morning and decided to start with the elliptical machine. There are four of them lined up, facing one TV. I climbed aboard and started my workout. I looked up at the TV. I saw guys in camouflage apparently trying to decide exactly what tactics to use in their quest to blow away an elk-type animal (I was trying not to look too closely).  There was only one other guy on the ellipticals so I asked him if he minded if I changed the channel.

"What do you want to change it to?" he asked me. I was somewhat taken aback, as I'd assumed he'd just nod. He didn't seem to be watching the show, but I couldn't say for sure.

"The news?" I responded. "Really, anything but this would be fine. I am not a fan of hunting shows."

He grumbled a bit but I grabbed a remote control and turned on CNN.  At that moment, they seemed to be discussing the re-opening of the JonBenet Ramsey case. The next story after that featured the case of a young man named Kendrick Johnson, who died under very odd circumstances - he was found rolled up in a gym mat at his school. The TV had captions on so I was just sort of reading along as I was sweating.

The guy next to me turned out to be the chatty type. Apparently, me asking him a question made me fair game for some sort of meaningful discourse or kvetching or whatever.

"See," he said, "Ever since you changed the channel, every story has been about murder. It's either animals or people. You're offended by one but not the other?"

I took the earbud out of my right ear. "I've been a vegetarian for 25 years and I donate all of my spare time to a rescue. I just have a hard time with gratuitous hunting," I said.

He blathered on for a bit about murder and how bad the news is. I smiled, nodded, and put the earbud back in my ear. He did have a point, albeit not a convincing one. I find it irritating when people who don't include animals in their sphere of concern make the assumption that people who care about animals . . . don't care about people. I can be concerned about the welfare of people and animals - the two are not mutually exclusive.

In my book, those hunting shows are mostly about sadism and mockery and some false theory of what it means to be a man. Good for you, camo man - you outsmarted some poor creature who was just munching some berries and being, you know, harmless. Now you're laughing and holding up the animal's head, a head that had breath coming through it just moments before. Good for you.

Caring about animals on a deeper level requires an awakening of conscience, I think. Many people just don't want to "go there." They can keep taking their kids to the circus if they just don't think about it too much. They can take their kids to SeaWorld to watch animals perform for the crowd (I truly hope that the BlackFish film will help people to think twice). They can pretend that the meat they buy at the grocery store died voluntarily. Lalalalalala

Everyone knows that killing a child is bad and wrong. What percentage of people think it's wrong to eat veal? It's a much smaller number, of course, but it's not an apples-to-apples comparison. We all have our causes - animal rights just happens to be near and dear to me. It's about oppression. It's about decimating the planet. It's about science and suffering and presumed superiority.

Dude at the gym . . . next time just let me change the channel with no questions asked. It's easier for both of us.

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