Friday, January 23, 2015

Retro Active Compassion: Respect For (Non-Human) Animals In 1990's TV/Films

Jingle All The Way (1996); Frasier; Switch (1991); Grosse Pointe Blank (1996)
Compassion in Mainstream 1990's TV/Films (Following Decades of Activism)
I had only seen 'Grosse Pointe Blank' (1996) once, years ago. I watched it again recently and noted how its rhythm, screenplay, soundtrack all have a distinctively 90's feel. All in the best way possible. 

I also appreciated something else: Several times in the course of the film, the characters express concern and compassion for animals. In dialog, alone. For example, when the two leads are getting reacquainted after a 10-year gap, John Cusack's (professional assassin) character explains he doesn't have a wife but he has a very nice cat, and when Minnie Driver's character tells him that's not the same thing, he responds: 'You don't know my cat. It's very demanding.' To that, Driver's character asks (baffled): 'It? You don't know if it's a boy or a girl?' To which he replies: 'I respect its privacy.' For someone who believes in respecting all species –– because non-humans are their own persons, not things –– this pointed dialog in the midst of conversation in an action-comedy film was refreshing to hear. 

Later, when Dan Akroyd's character (Grocer) meets with Cusack's (Blank) for a surprise breakfast, they discuss the controversial error Cusack's character made during a previous job which cost an innocent dog, called Budro, his life. Cusack's character is noticeably upset and says: 'Budro was never a target. Budro was acting on instinct. I would never hurt an animal. I'm offended at the accusation.' Another welcome surprise. This is how two tough assassins can talk in an action-comedy film? Seems like a different world than the one we have today when people shamelessly brag about 'hunting' and killing other species in various capacities. But the clincher was how they ordered their breakfasts! Here's the script from the point when the waitress enters the scene:

WAITRESS: Hi, my name is Melanie. Let me tell you about some of our specials. Today there's the Alfalfa on My Mind. That's our featured omelet. Or there's Gatsby's West Egg Omelet. If in the mood for something different, there's the I Left My Heart in San Francheezie.
BLANK: What'll you have? 
GROCER: Two poached eggs. Scrape off the milky white stuff. Hash browns well done. English muffin for the bread, and a coffee.
BLANK: Wholegrain pancakes and an egg-white omelet, please.
WAITRESS: What would you like in your omelet?
BLANK: Nothing in the omelet.
WAITRESS: That's not technically an omelet.
BLANK: I don't wanna get in a semantic argument. I just want the protein, all right?


Their  options and their choices not vegan –– but it's all decidedly vegetarian. This is a far cry from what any action-comedy film would include in a food discussion between two manly assassins. There would be plenty of talk about slaughtered animals without the slightest semblance of concern for their welfare. I was frankly amazed to hear this sort of food conversation casually taking place in a mainstream film. And it wasn't that their vegetarian food choices were an issue. This was obviously just normal for these characters.

This past Christmas, my husband and I decided to watch a Christmas movie we hadn't seen before. We were in the midst of watching a 90's mainstream (awkward, inconsistent) family film called 'Jingle All The Way', starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, when something remarkable happened; a supporting character emphatically told a woman on the street: 'You shouldn't wear fur!' Just like that. In a mainstream-Arnold Schwarzenegger-family-comedy-from-the-90's. The lady was undoubtedly considered a villain. 

And then I remembered: This was typical in the 90's. And, as I've shared in frustration before, animal rights activists in the 70's (and 80's) made terrific strides to help alleviate any interest in fur until it seemed only the cruel, heartless older woman was the sole participant in a bygone industry. So what happened?

I saw this again in one of the most successful and mainstream TV shows for the 90's, 'Frasier'. In one episode, Frasier mentions how he knows Maris will react dramatically (as the never-seen but oft-discussed Maris was prone to do.) He says: "She doesn't deal with confrontation very well. I once questioned the political correctness of her serving veal. An hour later, we found her locked in the garage with the engine running on her golf cart!' A TV character known to be food snob was willing to discuss the cruelty involved in serving veal in the 90's. We never hear anything remotely like this on TV today. So again, what happened?

Here's another example I noticed recently in the midst of what I consider to be a dismally bad film. In the film 'Switch' starring Ellen Barkin, the character played by JoBeth Williams wears a fur coat, and an alarmed woman passerby stops her and says: "Do you know how many poor animals they had to kill to make that coat!?" Again, this relatively mainstream Blake Edwards film was released in 1991. Following diligent activism decades prior, the 1990's upheld an existing narrative and everyday people were disenchanted by the entitled and self-serving woman who was willing to wear a fur coat. So what happened since, allowing the fur industry to seep back into fashion?

With these separate, random examples, it's quite obvious that compassion reached the masses decades ago, despite the fact that today we have far more knowledge and exposure to the tragic cruelties that exist in industries that exploit the lives of non-human animals. I am so proud of the activists who struggled to build that level of awareness so that people were choosing to be relatively conscious back in the 90's. It's heartbreaking that a couple of decades later, we see how entitlement and greed came back full force to eliminate all of the progress that was made before, taking us many steps backwards. 

Indeed, we should be looking back at the 90's and seeing how much we have progressed from that time to be coexisting respectfully along with our fellow Earth-dwellers –– instead, we have this. Things are for worse today. Farm factories, fur factories, even canned hunting factories. It's truly abominable to see where we are today. Those struggling to encourage a compassionate lifestyle must constantly swim against a tide of overwhelming force. 

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