Image by Bucajack via FlickrI recently did a web search on celebrities that openly spoke out against the animal rights movement. After all, I don't like to be a pessimist about this sort of thing. Many people bemoan that our public figures are intellectually inept, fickle and superficial compared to the great poets, philosophers, authors, playwrights and politicians of yesteryear. Sadly you have to dig quite deep. Putting it simply, the public profile benefits of supporting the animal rights movement in some way seem to outweigh opposing them. At least they do in the short term. Imagine the "dilemma" typically faced by a celebrity or their agent:
Support our animal rights campaign and we will put you more in the public eye, and show you to be compassionate and caring. Oppose the animal rights movement and you will receive a lot of abuse - anything from being lobbied by protesters to receiving death threats or even physically assaulted (as was the case with musician Ted Nugent).
We, at Astley's Legacy, are not "anti-celebrity". Far from it. We are all for responsible animal circuses. Circus has always had very close relationships with celebrities. In fact, many circus people have been celebrities. UK animal circus "Zippo's" annually publishes photos of numerous celebrities from Jonathan Ross to Paul Merton visiting the show. In bygone years famous writers toured with shows like Rosaires and larger shows courted a virtual who's who of the showbusiness world. Everyone from Roger Moore to Ronnie Corbett to Joan Mansfield and, of course, the Royal family were filmed attending and enjoying their time at the big circuses. Today, the legacy of circus animal training can be seen in most film-work and former and current circus animal trainers still brush shoulders with the "beautiful people" our society chooses to celebrate. However, companies that train animals are very rarely funded by anything other than their commercial work. As one can imagine, the overheads for running a responsible animal training service - whether for film or circus - in this day and age are considerable. Furthermore, the time needed to manage animals and ensure their needs are met in addition to getting work to fund all this leaves little left to fight against those who make money out of opposing them. Therefore, aside from the immediate work being offered for a certain project that might involve the use of trained animals or a single night's entertainment there is little incentive for a celebrity to speak out against the detractors of those who use and train captive animals.
Here and there we hear the isolated voices of a Dennis Leary who's stand-up show "No Cure for Cancer" was really just a rant against "do-gooders". Although a lot of what Leary said was true, the image of an animal rightist being a "do-gooder" let's them off way to easily. Even the wonderful satire on PeTA provided by "South Park" came up short. It showed the extremist and possibly quite perverse philosophy of animal rights, but presented it all at face value. Little was said about the huge hypocrisy and insincerity of the animal rights' movements main protagonists or the fact that PeTA kills far more animals than it actually rescues.
There have been others, but to date only Penn and Teller's wildly irreverent documentary series "Bullshit!" have actually addressed the issue head on. They targeted PeTA in their expose of the group's massive hypocrisy and also reflected on the absurd philosophy of the animal rights movement. However, since then the considerable budget of animal rights groups and the simple aforementioned dynamic - animal rights profits from attacking, targets of animal rights lose money by defending - has ensured that publicity in the public (and therefore celebrity) eye remains firmly from their point of view.
The sad thing is that most celebrities don't realize what they are really supporting. Does regular Animal Defenders International supporter, actor, Brian Blessed consider that his ownership of numerous pet dogs is in stark opposition to the animal rights agenda that all "pets" (they prefer the expression "companion animals") are slaves? Perhaps we should give them the benefit of the doubt. Our upcoming article on the "10 Most Hypocritical Anti-Circus Celebrities" will argue that as much as we understand mistakes and are willing to separate our personal tastes from the issue at hand - i.e. separate art from artist - we cannot allow the general public not to see celebrity hypocrisy. Despite understanding the pressures of fame and being in the public spotlight - circus people more than most know what it is like to be hounded by a critical and biased media - celebrities have chosen to use their influence and status to endorse a cause we believe is very wrong.
However, there are many celebrities who have felt a taste of what it is like to be on the receiving end of the animal rights movement as they inadvertently went about their daily business.
In 2004 in the UK comedians Harry Enfield and Billy Connolly were put on a hit list of 100 celebrities, which included actor Jeremy Irons, for their countryside pursuits that included hunting and fishing.
Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver perhaps thought he might get looked over for his use of meat. Oliver has promoted "organic" foods, responsible agriculture and even shown public disapproval of some farming practices. His campaigns to combat childhood obesity by making school meals healthier have become the subject of some his most popular TV shows, both in the UK and in the US. He is all in favour of showing children and adults the realities of consuming meat. This is a rare thing that many animal rightists and animal welfarists are probably in agreement over. Nevertheless, Oliver is a meat eater who actively promotes the consumption of meat. This is something animal rights appeasers and sympathizers never seem to get. When Jamie Oliver launched his own campaign to promote better welfare standards in the pork producing industry by urging people to buy British rather than cheap imports, PeTA had something else to say. Animal rights is a parasitic type of politics. It exists solely by feeding off the back of something else. By using the date of Mother's Day and the publicity that Oliver was currently pumping up about pork, PeTA applied their usual shock tactics by sending out two naked heavily pregnant protesters to push their point outside of Jamie Oliver's flagship restaurant "Fifteen". Their banner read "Unhappy Mother's Day". The point being made was that non-consumption of pork is the only real way to ensure that pig welfare was met. Aside from the crude shock value, the naked mother-to-be were symbolized the breeding of pigs for the production of pork.
It's a shame that TV chefs, particularly those who flirt with social issues and politics, don't consider their most obvious threat. The animal rights movement is all about abolition. They make their points very clearly. Animals are not for humans to be exploited in any way whatsoever. They don't care if your meat is "organic" (whatever the hell that word really means) or responsibly farmed, they just don't want you to produce it and eat it. For that matter, they don't want you to use animal products full-stop. So, by all means work to make improvements in the agriculture industry and reconnect human beings to the realities of meat production, but isn't it time you looked at those who directly oppose what you do?
However, it is the world of entertainment that we are most concerned. Already PeTA have started targeting celebrities who have worked on films that feature wild animals. Again, always with an eye for fame, PeTA observed several films that predominately featured trained wild animals. July this year revealed a campaign by the most vocal animal rights group to target actors who had appeared in films featuring animals. The agenda, once again, was quite clear: animal rightists don't care how well the animals are treated or responsibly sourced they don't want them used full stop. These celebrities haven't shown any signs of hypocrisy in the use of animals. An upcoming article based on our poll, "Who is the most hypocritical anti-circus celebrity?", will reveal the shocking doubles-standards of certain stars.
Eonline reported on 21st October that Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson were targeted by PeTA for appearing in a feature film, "We Bought a Zoo", based on the memoirs of private zoo owner Benjamin Mee. Based on the recent tragedy in Ohio, involving the escape of nearly 50 exotic animals from a private collection, animal rightists have gone into overdrive to reintroduce an animal regulation bill that might seriously effect professionals who train and keep exotic animals. PeTA are lobbying the film to include a message about the dangers of keeping wild animals. Really? The group's material and outspoken philosophy has been constantly anti-human, much in line with the hijacked environmentalist cause. I doubt PeTA gives a trained monkey to the welfare of the average individual who might encounter an escaped exotic animal. They understand that this bill could be the back-door into crippling the whole animal entertainment/education industry.
Interestingly, Mr Damon's buddy Leonardo DiCaprio was among celebrities most vocal in his support of the regulation. DiCaprio has regularly fronted animal rights causes. I don't completely blame celebrities for the causes they choose to fight. On the surface such a regulation might not be any worse than the Dangerous Wild Animal Act 1976. This act did have some unfortunate side effects, but it was largely written by those involved in the animal industry and almost stopped the irresponsible ownership of exotic animals overnight. Grannies with fully-grown lions living in their boarded up living rooms and men who filled their attics with venomous snakes were quickly relieved of their dangerous charges. However, I am always wary of anything that is endorsed by a proven extremist cause. Often I don't think it is heartfelt and they seriously need to consider their principles over the need for a quick publicity fix, especially when their hypocrisy will eventually be exposed. Those who go after issues that animal welfarists might support are also understandable. They just picked the wrong group to support, but that wrong choice might ultimately be self-destructive...