SCOTUS case on depicting animal cruelty

Oct 06 2009 Published by under Animals in Research, General Politics

So I was listening to the NPR recently and they were covering a case before the US Supreme Court which considers a Federal law banning sale of depictions of animal cruelty (NPR text here, here). The bit that I heard quoted some HSUS flack extensively which got me thinking.
There is the legal side of things and the ethical side of things. Let's take up the ethical side first. I think the argument is that getting your jollies off* of video or pictures of animals being injured, hurt or killed seems reprehensible. Disgusting even. Criminal.
From the quoted bits, one might assume that the HSUS flack-guy is adamant about most depictions of animal cruelty. As are many on the ARA tail of the distribution. Bad, bad, bad. Hunting, animal fighting....all objectionable.
So how do they feel about those faked up depictions of supposed laboratory animal cruelty that they love to drag out at the slightest opportunity. That they use to give themselves and their followers a little thrill over how awful it is a(nd how great they are for opposing it). They are getting their jollies off of (often faked) depictions of animal cruelty are they not? The larger organizations are profiting from such depictions, are they not? How can they associate themselves with such things? Doesn't this violate the spirit of the law they are backing here?
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Before you get too bent about dogfighting, let me ask if you read Tetrapod Zoology in these parts and view some of the footage of animals predating each other? Do you watch the fishing channel? Is this any better or worse than video of hunts of doves or even charismatic big game?
I'm actually not a big fan of the hunting and the fishing and I can do without it. However, I've had cats for much of my life so being around predation is pretty much a given there and I don't have a problem with the Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom predation video stuff, so long as the gore is minimized. I am not certain why this is so but I take this as a signal for additional reflection on how and why I draw a line. I wonder if the wackanuts ever consider for a millisecond the places where their positions are seemingly in conflict or flagrantly hypocritical? Do you?

15 responses so far

  • 01jack says:

    At first blush I'd say that it depends on whether the events being depicted (that real-life part) are themselves immoral. This puts laboratory and slaughterhouse animal cruelty over the line, but I'm comfortable with that.

  • Paul Murray says:

    "That they use to give themselves and their followers a little thrill over how awful it is a(nd how great they are for opposing it)."
    Someone said something similar about images of famine. The enormous eyes and disproportionately large heads of the starved, the bloated bellies of the malnourished, that the dark secret of the sob-sister sorority is this: famine victims are cute.

  • Robert says:

    Are you talking about those pictures that claim to show a cat in a bottle? It pains me to look at them even though I know they are fake.
    http://bitsandpieces.us/wp-content/uploads/2008/05/imagesbottle-20cat2.jpg
    I think it's fake. It had better be fake!

  • JThompson says:

    Masturbating to an animal being slowly crushed to death for that sole purpose = watching a bunch of (mostly faked) AR video crap. Glad someone could clear that up. After all, PETA/HSUS working themselves into a stupid frothing lather of righteous indignation over a bunch of videos is exactly like a person being paid to crush animals to death for the sake of an erection.
    Yes, dog fighting is worse. The difference is the big game hunts and fishing, as loathsome as they are don't torture the animals to the point of insanity beforehand then torture them to death afterward for the sheer hell of doing it. I suggest you Google "dog trunking" if you fail to see a difference. Yes, I've seen animals predating one another. That's pretty natural. Being beaten with a stick until you hate anything that breathes so people can bet on who gets maimed first in a pit neither of you can possibly escape and having your bloody skull smashed in with a brick is not.
    Isn't the fact that animal testing is required for medicine a good enough argument? That it's saved millions of lives and will save millions more? If the ultra-AR crowd don't like it they can just stop taking medicine and bugger off. (Which they won't, and therein lies the real hypocrisy.)
    @Robert: Yeah, it's kind of fake. It's a bonsai kitten. The whole thing was a huge joke. The original was a cat that had crawled into a jar, if I remember right. It wasn't stuck, cats can get into or out of just about anything. (I've had one get halfway up a drainpipe. I'll never know how.) Of course the AR people predictably went flat out crazy over it, and since it's more fun to poke at something that screams like an idiot at the least provocation *coughPETAcough* they made more pictures using photoshop, trick photography, odd angles, etc. The pictures were kinda funny, the reaction was utterly predictable and completely hilarious.

  • becca says:

    Does this make Itchy and Scratchy illegal??
    Nobody should have to grow up without Itchy and Scratchy... won't somebody please think of the children?!
    DM, your argument doesn't make any sense to me. I think it's analogous to saying something like "people who get off on the video game Rapelay are comparable to people who are proud of supporting the Silence is the Enemy campaign by reproducing descriptions of what has happened to women in Liberia".

  • David Jentsch says:

    The "anti-vivisection" signs are going to represent a "tough call" with respect to this legal case. Should the Supreme Court decide to ban images depicting animal cruelty (and it seems that they may be somewhat reluctant to do so), I don't think it should apply to the signs carried by animal rights protesters. As far as I understand it, the banning of depictions of animal fighting is best morally and ethically justified by saying that animals suffered and profits were earned because of the sale of pictures; therefore, by banning pictures, animals are saved and related profits are not earned. While that is not a perfect argument, it seems to hold water. Clearly, the argument is not that people should not be allowed to view graphically horrible pictures (worse things can be seen on cable TV almost nightly).
    If my analysis were true, it would not apply to the signs carried by animal rights activists.
    Goodness knows that I am sick and tired of looking out my front window at them, but I don't think this can apply. If nothing else, a scientist who advocates that the pictures should be covered by the ban would be directly acknowledging that they display cruelty, and many of them do not. They are out of context snap shots in time that can be twisted to seem like something they are not.

  • c. s. says:

    Creating photographs or videos of animals being injured or killed for the purpose of making that photo or video uses them as a means to an end. Capturing images of cruelty that occurs independently of the filmmaker or photographer does not. Furthermore, to discourage production of these depictions, it is required that we prohibit distribution and possession of depictions of cruelty which were created unethically.
    I am a young man who has recently found himself entering a bit of an animal rights kick. The idea that it is acceptable to harm animals, but not humans, to gain knowledge seems absurd, even mystical. Whatever benefit there might be to our society does not excuse the act of harming animals as a means to that end, and if the beings used in these laboratories were humans, we would easily see that.
    There seems to be quite a bit of hostility to anything AR-related on Sb, and I am not quite convinced that people here have really thought things out very much. And yet I also understand that AR activists are fighting for a cause and don't necessarily understand animal biology, so it would be plausible to expect them to distort the truth. So, can someone please give some examples of depictions of laboratory animal cruelty trotted out by AR activists which was later shown to be faked?

  • claire says:

    @c.s. Besides the general photoshopping of protest signs and tendency when describing the "cruel" methods of "vivisectionists" to leave out the part where animals were anesthetized first, let's try the Silver Spring Monkey case. Go around to your favorite AR sights and see what they say about it, and then read pages 22-32 of Adrian Morrison's An Odyssey with Animals. Because of his personal connection and his training as a veterinarian, Morrison offers particularly informative background on the case the basically made PETA.
    And here's a quick little bonus from Speaking of Research:

  • Cleveland says:

    And beyond what claire mentions there are many images I've seen over the years in which research animals are positioned and surrounded by or restrained with equipment that makes no logical sense and is not used in any lab to generate the data purportedly under collection. The images had to have been fabricated by a mole going into a lab and playing around when nobody was watching.
    A monkey in a plastic tube restraint picture that looks like a rodent restraint procedure has made the rounds now and again. Maybe this is used in industry but you sure as heck can't find it using PubMed. Monkey (brief) restraint is in the lit but it uses other techniques. So when this picture is described as being common to academic research..it is a lie.
    A second issue is more subtle and it has to do with misrepresenting long outdated research practices (we're talking 40-50 yrs or longer), screwups or individual bad acting people's treatment of animals as if it were representative of actual intentional research practices. I would describe this as lying, not a "fake" exactly but I can see how someone would see it as a fabrication too. Certainly it is intellectually dishonest.
    A typical example of this is the Peta-mole spy video. The most recent splash was a nonhuman primate facility in Louisiana where a spy video made it onto the network news. The person was supposedly in the facility for, what was it, months? A year? And the best they could come up with for supposedly systematic bad practices was a few seconds of dubious evidence (Such as an anesthetized animal being shown falling off a table when the videographing mole was the closest person, apparently within arm's reach. Naturally you can't see much and there is insufficient duration of filming to be assured that the mole had nothing to do with what happened. Which was characterized as being a representative incident, btw). This sort of thing is presented as a lie, at the best. It is very possible, given the prior events of clearly fabricated poses and the microscopic footage to time-spent-moling ratio that frustrated moles just go ahead and put a thumb on the scale, so to speak, to generate their desired imagery.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    @#6, #7: I take the point about the motivation for creating the image. But I was struck in the NPR coverage by the apparent defense offered in the case under consideration. The original defendant sells videos of dog fights apparently. I believe I heard one defense as being that he uses video of dog fights created where it is legal (so presumably, the video would be created whether this guy later sells it or not) to create instruction or education on how to do it more humanely. Or some such. The devil would be in the details and frankly my mind boggles in this dog fight case.
    However, I could very easily see where a video on how to best remove a fish hook would satisfy my personal criteria of enhancing humane treatment of animals. Ditto some instruction on where to place your shot with large game.
    Hmm, interesting sidebar for the scientists. Could you imagine if hunters and fisherpeople had to go through the kinds of training and protocol establishment, oversight and accounting that scientists who want to use animals in research have to undergo?

  • JakeR says:

    You say there's a moral side and a legal side, and I agree. The legal side you characterize as antivivisectionists' trading in such materials.
    While it is an interesting question, it is not the legal point.
    The legal point is whether this expression is constitutionally protected, which is why SCOTUS heard the case. IANAL, but it appears to be an open-and-shut case: it is protected, no matter how much how many people find it reprehensible. If you think otherwise, how would you like it if Congress decided that no criticism of religion or no support for abortion rights or support for stem-cell research (or anything else you love or loathe) were allowed? The Constitution does not protect popular speech, only unpopular speech.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    no I didn't characterize any legal side which is the narrow fight over First Amend protection. Since most of my readers are not lawyers with interest in Constitutional issues it is just not a relevant discussion, especially for this blog. The more general story relates to ongoing discussions of ARA ethical shortcuts and hypocrisies.

  • JakeR says:

    I said you characterized the legal issue as antivivisectionists' trading in such materials. @12, you denied characterizing it as the "narrow fight over the First Amendment," which is what it in fact is and at best peripherally related to my original point. If your blog is solely about vivisection ethics, you might want to steer clear of legal arguments. The sole legal point in this case is whether the law is 1)constitutional or incidentally 2)overly broad. If 1), very likely the effect, as you note, is 2) and PETA and the like are not only hypocritical but felonious. The one law that matters in such cases is the law of unintended consequences.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    No, I made it quite clear I was not talking about the legal issues, i.e., the narrow ones in front of the SCOTUS. This is a point I reiterate in #12. You need to slow down and read for content.

  • becca says:

    "most of my readers are not lawyers with interest in Constitutional issues " wait, we're not?
    Curses, foiled again!

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