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Thursday, February 11, 2010

“You Dirty Rat”!

Seems like we are having more and more difficulties as a species in developing an agreed ethics when it comes to animals. On the British TV Channel, ITV, is a programme devoted to putting minor celebrities in the ‘jungle’ and asking them to survive a series of challenges to their capacity to stay calm under duress: (eating insects, walking in a pit of snakes, spiders and whatever). Probably the idea came from a Japanese quasi-documentary series a couple of decades ago where competitors had to suffer extremes of torture until the last person standing took a sizeable prize. A scene shown on some comedy programme I watched had the competitors up to their necks in sand, their heads liberally gunked with honey and then a nest full of ants let loose, not poisonous, of course, but thousands of them niggling and itching…

Anyway, on this programme competitors had to catch, kill, skin and eat a rat. ITV were fined for cruelty. The rat took 90 seconds to die and squealed for some of that time. The RSPCA filed the complaint.

Now, probably, most people have a sneaking empathy with Animal Liberationist when they are revealing cruelty in poultry houses or zoos or science laboratories – if the latter’s guinea pigs are nice creatures such as Beagles or chimps … (confusing metaphor…!). They lose most of our sympathies if they try to intervene in our pleasures of the flesh (pork, beef, goat, chicken, ostrich, kangaroo) providing the creatures have not been maltreated. We even make national heroes of animals that escape abattoirs or the culling of a foot and mouth diseased herd. Like our shifting moralities regarding sex, homicide, parenting, religious observance and death, to name some of the more obvious examples, we have no consistent approach to animal rights. As long as there is plenty to go round, we can afford to construct cases of cruelty as in the aforementioned rat instance. And people can have jobs seeing to it that animals get a fair shake of the dice.

But if there is no food, as in Haiti and ice-frozen Mongolia or many parts of Africa here, there is no organisation around to take you to court for eating a rat and saving your life. Funny that!

Come the Apocalypse, when we can’t all stowaway on Noah’s new vessel, it may well be a couple of celebrities who survive, eating their rats, waving to the departing ark and wondering why the dead and dying around them are making such a fuss. Each of them will hunker down with a club in his hands over a hole in the skirting and say what James Cagney actually said in Taxi: ‘Come out and take it, you dirty, yellow-bellied rat.’


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