America: The Land of Conformity // Mary Fowler

Imagine you’re a high school student walking down the narrow corridors of your school. You see a small crowd gathering by the stairwell, so you saunter over to see what all the fuss is about.  After wiggling around enough, you see through the sea of heads a helpless, frail freshman being tormented by a senior, blonde, letterman-jacket-wearing meathead. While watching the young one getting knocked around and taking nasty blows by the words the senior is spitting out at him, you begin to wonder how all of this is happening? There has to be nearly a dozen kids standing around watching this occur, all loitering in silence. Although they stand with their mouths shut, they could not be condoning the violence in any better way. Silence of the people has done nothing positive for this country on both small and large scales.

Some Americans may argue that it is purely the company or individual involved that is at fault for the violence. Factory farms are the ones mistreating animals, not the citizens of the United States who are simply purchasing these items. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the shooters of the Columbine massacre, are the individuals who killed thirteen victims and marred the lives of many others. It was their fingers on the triggers, not the community’s. How could you put the entire consumer base, or the entire community at fault for the wrongdoings or poor decisions of a single entity? Although these companies and surrounding communities are not encouraging these violent acts, they certainly are not speaking up against them either.

Violence is ever so present in America now, more than it has been in the last fifty or so years. We we see it everywhere, whether it be on the news, television shows, movies, or in our day-to-day lives; we are constantly exposed to the exponential growth of violence surrounding us. The problem, though, is not that people are not aware of the ever-growing violence, but that no one is willing to step up and make actions towards extinguishing it. After learning about the factory farming industry as well as the Columbine massacre in Critical Thinking and Writing I and II, I have come to the conclusion that the silence of the people has fostered conformity, leading to violence.

The cover of the book, Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

In my first quarter of CTW we were exposed to many different forms of violence in the factory farming industry. Our discussions were primarily based around the book, Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, and the documentary Food Inc., both of which exposed the ominous, steam-blowing factories where our chicken nuggets come from. It was old news to the majority of the class that fast food restaurants do not sell the most naturally raised meals, however what some were not aware of in the class was the magnitude of the violence that occurs inside the farms regarding the animals.

Where Perdue houses their chicken before slaughtering them.

This picture of Perdue, the country’s third largest chicken producer, depicts the cramped, dimly lit living conditions that the chickens must endure before being murdered (Warner). This is a form of violence, in the idea that these living creatures are being treated in an insufficient matter. Perdue is not the only company that treats their animals this way. Foster Farm, Tyson Food Inc., and Smithfield Food Inc. have all been guilty of their mistreatment of animals. A few of these companies have been exposed like Tyson Food Inc. was by NBC News (Schecter), so why haven’t consumers done anything about it? Conformity. Because most Americans do not have to be conscious of the issue, many go along with the violence accepting it for what it is. Not to mention, it would take a lot of time and resources to fight the factory farming system. If Tyson’s chicken is cheaper than a company’s who raises their animals in a more humane matter, the consumer will still most likely buy the cheaper option. If most of America is doing so, then what is one more person supporting them through purchasing their goods going to harm?  The average American values their time and money more than the life of an animal that is going to die anyway. It is easier to ignore the issue so that they do not feel responsible to fix it.

Dylan Klebold on the left and Eric Harris on the right in one of their home videos.

The idea of conformity appears again in Columbine by Dave Cullen, which we read as a class in CTW II. Through discussions in class and my own research, I came to the conclusion that Eric and Dylan’s acts of extreme violence did not stem solely from ferocity within them. In Bowling for Columbine, a documentary by Michael Moore, the co-creator of South Park Matt Stone, who grew up in Littleton, speaks about how “painfully, horribly average” the town in which Eric and Dylan grew up in is. He also goes on to mention how kids are “scared into conforming” in order to succeed (Bowling For Columbine). While researching Columbine further, Littleton seemed like a picture perfect town that just happened to be where “two young men made very bad, very wrong decisions” (Bowling for Columbine). Those decisions, though, were a product of boredom and restlessness from living in a town that required such an immaculate reputation in order to survive. These pressures of conformity combined with the teen angst, that lies within high school students anyway, led to a lot of the bullying that Eric and Dylan also had to endure. Matt Stone also speaks about how Eric and Dylan were made fun of and constantly called “fags” and other demeaning names because they did not conform to the social norm that resided in Littleton. People knew this though, so why weren’t the bullies stopped?

If someone, anyone, spoke up against the conformity in Littleton, maybe, just maybe, thirteen lives could have been spared. Thirteen lives that were taken way too early on in life. The silence of Eric and Dylan’s peers encouraged the pressures of conformity in Columbine High School, and Littleton as a community. Likewise, the silence of the consumers is promoting the continuation of these terrible acts that occur in the factory farms. So what can we do to remedy the inherent violence within corporate institutions like the factory farm system and prevent outbreaks of gun violence like the Columbine massacre? The answer is simple: speak up. Raise awareness about the plight of factory farm chickens at the dinner table. Call out bullies throwing demeaning slurs. Speak your mind on issues of injustice, and justice will eventually follow.

Work Cited:

Bowling for Columbine. By Michael Moore. Dir. Michael Moore. 2002.

Cullen, David. Columbine. New York: Twelve, 2009. Print.

Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown, 2009. Print.

Food, Inc. Movie One, 2008.

Schecter, Anna. “Tyson Foods Changes Pig Care Policies after NBC Shows Undercover Video.” NBC News. N.p., 10 Jan. 2014. Web. 18 Mar. 2015.

Warner, Melanie. “Perdue’s “Humanely-Raised” Chicken: The Latest Misleading Food Claim.” CBSNews. CBS Interactive, 21 May 2010. Web. 19 Mar. 2015.

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