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BoJack Horseman Confronts the Humane Myth Head-On

BoJack Horseman Confronts the Humane Myth Head-On

By Saryta Rodriguez

 

The Netflix original series, BoJack Horseman, often brings to mind animal liberation, at least from my perspective. I was intrigued and, at times, horrified from the very beginning of the show (though I remained, and still remain, a loyal fan) by how personified animals nevertheless are exploited for human purposes. For instance, an early episode in Season One shows a personified cow working as a waitress at a restaurant, and when someone requests milk, she squeezes the contents of her own udder into a glass. In another episode, the same waitress shoves a plate at a diner and bitterly grumbles, “Here’s your STEAK.” (Side note: This scene in particular begged the question to me, So are the cows in this society chosen at random to become steak, or are there separate cows destined from birth to become steak while others live freely in society?)

After a long and anxious wait, fans of the show were finally given a second season just last week, which I devoured. SPOILER ALERT: The rest of this post has to do with Season 2, Episode 5, “Chickens.”

The episode begins with a personified chicken giving a video tour of his “humane” farm. He first shows us a black-and-white photograph of a decrepit building and talks about how factory farms pump their chickens full of hormones and keep them cooped up in cages.

Enslaved hens attempting to play foosball while the proud "humane" farmer pontificates on his own awesomeness.

Enslaved hens attempting to play foosball while the proud "humane" farmer pontificates on his own awesomeness.

“Now, as a chicken, this concerns me. Here at Gentle Farms, we treat our livestock differently. Lush fields, plenty of dignity, and foosball! The chickens here have wonderful lives before we harvest them, so you can eat them.”

Later in this episode, BoJack’s roommate, Todd, encounters a genetically modified hen who has escaped from a factory farm. I noted immediately that this chicken, unlike other nonhuman animals personified on the show (such as the proprietor of Gentle Farms), is more chicken-like—and, even for a chicken, odd and somewhat lacking in intelligence—than human. This serves as an indication that she is functioning improperly due to genetic modification. Check.

Todd, BoJack, Diane (the ghostwriter of BoJack’s autobiography, which was published at the end of Season 1), and Kelsey’s daughter Irving (Kelsey being the director of BoJack’s dream movie project, Secretariat) resolve to take the hen, who Todd names Becca, to Gentle Farms, as the police are hot on her trail. There, the proprietor goes on about how amazing the farm is: “We have 20 acres of pasture, where our chickens have hours of free play.” The proprietor’s child thanks BoJack et. al. for rescuing the hen from “a terrible life at a factory farm.”

Then, the moment of truth: Todd expresses concern that the factory farm will try to get her back, to which the proprietor replies, “Oh, don’t you worry about your friend. That chicken belongs to us now.” He then proceeds to pump a shot-gun.

Farmer is a bit too eager to take in Todd's "rescued" feathered friend...

Farmer is a bit too eager to take in Todd's "rescued" feathered friend...

Both the language employed—not she lives here now, not she’s safe here now, but she belongs to us now—and the gun indicate the basic logical fallacies of the Humane Myth. The myth rests on the false premises that a) nonhuman animals belong to us and b) their lives can be taken whenever we want, for whatever reason we want, as long as those lives were pleasant prior to the act of murder with which they were ended.

Later, a horrified Todd persuades the group to rescue the hen from Gentle Farms—in other words, at least in the context of this episode, all of the main characters become liberationists. When searching frantically for Becca in a barn full of hens, Todd finally says, "I found her! This is Becca!"--to which Diane replies, "No, Todd, don't you get it?! They're ALL Becca!" The barn door is then flung open, and all chickens save Becca run away.

Ultimately, after the group is arrested and then released due to BoJack's celebrity, Irving asks whether anything they did made a difference, given that Becca was only rescued because BoJack happened to know Drew Barrymore (who "adopts"--purchases-- Becca from Gentle Barn). Diane asserts that yes, a difference was made--in spite of the following image of a Chicken 4 Dayz fast "food" place doing tons of business. I would have to agree, given that not only was Becca saved but also, presumably, the many hens who ran away when Diane opened the door to the barn.

If this isn’t evidence that our issue is on the table, that the moment is ripe, and that the truth will out, I truly don’t know what is. As Jon Stewart said on The Daily Show, the tide is changing. The Humane Myth is being challenged increasingly across media, moving beyond animal liberation outlets to mainstream news (both left-leaning like The New York Times and Huffington Post and even right-leaning, such as Glenn Beck in the Fall of 2014) and entertainment. Direct action works, and we will keep engaging in it until every animal is free.

Excerpt: Until Every Animal Is Free

Excerpt: Until Every Animal is Free

By Saryta Rodriguez

 

Howdy!

It is my pleasure to present to you the following excerpt from my book, Until Every Animal Is Free, which is now available for presale order here.  I would like to thank all of my fellow DxE-ers for making this possible, as well as my friends and family and the amazing Vegan Publishers.

Last but certainly not least, I'd like to thank animal liberationists everywhere for all of the hard work they do to create a more compassionate world.

 

From Until Every Animal Is Free, Chapter Two: Speciesism: The Final Frontier.

 

“They are a damned set of jackasses...”

“It can be of no benefit commensurate with the additional expense involved.”

“It is unwise to risk the good we already have for the evil which may occur.”

“Every lover of his country should desire to vindicate its institutions, of which this is one.”

“You are requested to attend and unite in putting down and silencing by peaceable means this tool of evil and fanaticism.”

What do these quotes mean to you? Can you guess what they are about?  To me, the first sounds like a popular sentiment amongst meat-eaters against animal liberationists.  The second two refer to common concerns about the Animal Liberation Movement: that it will be costly, and risk the economic and social stability America holds so dear. It will disrupt the existing state of affairs, and who knows what might result? Why risk it, when everything is fine as-is?

The fourth quote implies that to challenge any American institution is to reveal oneself as patently un-American (one resultant implication being that liberationists, by challenging American meat and dairy industries, lack patriotism), while the final quote beseeches the public to use nonviolent means to disrupt a meeting that could serve as a “tool of evil and fanaticism.”  The person making the statement is presumably on the side of the Goodies, beseeching the public to help check the Badies using “peaceable means”—i.e. nonviolent direct action.

Here’s what these quotes are really about:

“They are a damned set of jackasses...”

—Rioter during the Farren Riots, a series of anti-abolition riots in New York, 1834. He was referring to Yankees and abolitionists.

“It can be of no benefit commensurate with the additional expense involved.”

“It is unwise to risk the good we already have for the evil which may occur.”

—Pamphlet encouraging women not to fight for suffrage, published in the 1910s.

“Every lover of his country should desire to vindicate its institutions, of which this is one.”

—Charles J. Ingersoll, 1856, referring to abolition as a challenge to the American institution of slavery.

“You are requested to attend and unite in putting down and silencing by peaceable means this tool of evil and fanaticism.”

—An anonymous ad posted in a newspaper in 1837, asking the public to disrupt a meeting of abolitionists.

The rhetoric hasn’t changed much.  The last quote is, to me, the most shining example, as a pro-slavery zealot manages to sell his position as one of peace and harmony while demonizing abolitionists as evil fanatics.  Similarly, meat-eaters often refer to vegans and animal liberationists as “fanatical,” “extreme” or “radical.”

Fear of disrupting the status quo—exposing oneself to negative repercussions not currently experienced— prevents would-be activists from taking direct action. It resigns them instead to making personal lifestyle choices that make them feel better about themselves, like going vegan, or engaging in welfarism (improving the living conditions of nonhuman slaves)—without making any effort to end the Animal Holocaust once and for all. This issue is best highlighted by the anti-suffrage packet; you may have noticed that neither of the sentiments I’ve extracted from it demonize women’s suffrage itself. Instead, these sentiments caution women not to rock the boat, playing to their sense of prudence rather than that of morality or justice.

Ingersoll questions the integrity of anyone who challenges existing American institutions, whereas I and many other activists believe it is far more ethical to seek to improve upon an institution—or abolish it if it cannot be improved upon, as in the cases of both human and nonhuman slavery—than it is to let a detrimental institution remain unchanged and watch idly as our country suffers the consequences.  To challenge a failing American institution is an act of the utmost integrity.