Thanks for the Nightmares, Shaun Monson!

I am about to deliver a post most bleak, the one from which I spared you on December 17.  Readers, I have decided it must be done.  I cannot unsee the seen, and if I pretend it didn’t happen, I will be doing you a disservice.  So, here goes.

This is me, starting to watch EarthlingsImage

Ever heard of it?  I hadn’t either, until late December, at which point I stumbled upon the 7-year-old documentary by Shaun Monson.  My heart cracked in two before shattering into a billion pieces when I saw this film.  This is me a few minutes into Earthlings.


Relentlessly chronicling human cruelty to animals via footage from factory farms, slaughterhouses, and research labs, Earthlings feels itself like a cruelty inflicted upon me.  The film makes no attempt to shield the viewer from the brutality of the use and abuse of animals as pets, clothing, food, entertainment, and research subjects.  The punishing videos are so difficult to watch, much less comprehend, that after a while I looked with relief upon the scene where the cow’s tail was only sharply broken to get her to stand when she collapsed with exhaustion on a long, hot trip.  Whew!  Only broken bones, dehydration, and light beating!  That’s what Earthlings does to you.


Following are a few heart-warming highlights from Earthlings: Ridiculously adorable yellow chicks are held against a giant blade, their tiny beaks clumsily chopped off.  A stray dog is tossed into a garbage truck, its dark eyes staring out as it is crushed in with the refuse.  A living pig’s flesh is torched to the point of crisping and curling off its body for burn research.  Foxes are killed via anal electrocution, which often doesn’t work the first time(s).  Circus elephants are screamed at, struck with bull-hooks, and shot.  Animals born to walk most of the day are confined to tiny cages.  Other animals, very much alive, are peeled with less consideration than a banana, their eyes slowly blinking out of their bloody, skinless bodies,  Brandings, bullfighting, head trauma testing.  Rodeos, transport, prodding, beating.  People slit throats, step on bodies, break bones.

Earthlings is so intense that I am sure most people will have zero interest in sitting through the movie.  And this – this very tendency to protect ourselves from the pain of animal suffering – is what I want to explore now.  What makes us cringe when we see animals mistreated?  What makes this a difficult (if not almost impossible) film to watch all the way through?  Why does it hurt so much to see?  It hurts because humans are hard-wired for empathy.  When we see an animal in pain, when we hear it vocalize in agony, we understand what it must be going through.  Why turn away from this thing that connects humans to other humans and animals?  Why fight kindness?

If we ignore Earthlings, maybe the things depicted within are not happening…?  Peek-a-boo, anyone?

The things in this film are happening, whether we witness them or not.  Going to the circus, wearing a commercial fur coat, eating pork chops sourced by an industrial pig farm, wearing cosmetics tested on animals…All of these things support and perpetuate the atrocities featured in Earthlings.  Believing that not beating our pets equals treating animals well is too superficial an analysis.  We need to look at how we, and specifically our money, ensure that animals will continue to be ill-treated and dispatched of in ways most tragic.  We can’t put all the blame on corporations or governments; ultimately, it is our money that counts, and this horror will continue until we speak with our wallets.  As Peter Knights points out in the film Revolution, “You may only get to vote once every four years, but every time you buy a product you get a chance to choose the type of world you want.  So buying from sustainable sources, from local sources, from low-environmental impact sources, all shapes the world that we live in.”

We might be faced with feelings of mental paralysis when watching Earthlings.  We might think, what does it matter if I do something differently?  This will still go on.  And you know what?  Maybe that’s true.  But if WE make changes, WE will not be contributing to the animal suffering.  We will have said, in our way, that we will not participate in actions that cause animal suffering.  Joaquin Phoenix, Earthlings‘ narrator – who might have invented a word or two in his voice-over – nonetheless speaks beautifully of humans when he says, “When we wince at the suffering of animals, that feeling speaks well of us, even if we ignore it.”  I agree with Phoenix on the first part, but the last clause goes against everything I have learned from William Wilberforce.  If we ignore this important work, especially if it makes us wince, I do not think it speaks well of us at all.  Being compassionate would speak well of us.  Allowing our empathy to trump our wish for things to be easy, tasty, and cheap would speak well of us.

I wept through most of this movie (oh my, yes), but I watched it.  Why?  Because I wanted to see it, to be reminded that there is work to be done to stop this lack of consideration of animals and their worth.  If Earthlings were a record from decades past, a video archive of things once done to animals but thankfully no more, I would not have watched.  But these things are happening.  We can make no mistake about this.  We can pretend it is not happening but meanwhile it… just…is.

Watch Earthlings online at

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. eleutheria1980
    Jan 21, 2014 @ 20:07:27

    Beautifully written. Thank you for this. I am still working up the courage to watch, and this gave me more insight in making that decision. Sounds painful, but important.


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