Think Before You Act // Jesse Meeks

 

When we think of violence, we tend to picture street gangs, prisons, or often two friends going at it in a heated argument. It’s not common that we think in terms of torture, violence without human interaction, or short bursts of aggression. However, these forms of violence are just as popular and destructive as the aforementioned kinds. Look at factory farming and school shootings. We see here that “quote”. Despite gangs propagating “quote”, animal slaughter and massacres at schools, when seen in person, potentially pose a much greater threat to one’s emotional sanctity than watching two adult males shoot at each other for no reason other than to assert their dominance.

Of course, factory farming and school shootings are not entirely as bad as some people would like to say they are. For instance, meat eaters still vastly outnumber vegetarians in the world, so a source of mass-produced meat is necessary to feed all these hungry mouths. Because of this, there is no production site large enough to provide for billions of people besides factory farms, whose efficient processes which often cut corners facilitate a rapid process. On the other hand, most school shootings are undergone so the perpetrator can be viewed worldwide and thereby made famous–more likely infamous–for his or her (almost always his) merciless act of cruelty. It’s not frequent that shooters enjoy slaughtering up to dozens of students in cold blood; unless, of course, you’re Eric Harris and you’re a psychopath (quote about full-blown) (Cullen). Although there are not too many ways to defend factory farming and school shootings, it’s possible to justify their transpiring and understand why they continue to occur.

Despite these justifications, these two abominable acts should be addressed promptly and head on. Their incidence is now greater than ever, contrasting the rise of liberalist ideals worldwide. With China and India’s poultry industries growing “somewhere between 5 and 13 percent annually since the 1980s,” (Foer 148)  and people like Seung Hui Cho citing “Eric and Dylan at least twice as inspiration” (Cullen 348) for his murder of thirty-two people, it’s apparent that these issues will only grow worse if no one attempts to stem their proliferation. Although the majority of people will never be personally affected by these atrocities, it would be selfish to say this frees us from the burden of protecting innocent animals and children. Sending in money to PETA or funds remembering those lost in shootings may have some impact, but we need to do more to gather enough attention to our cause. To really jumpstart this process, it’s necessary that we understand the horrors involved in each issue, using critical analysis to delve deeper into each issue and avoiding easy explanations for complicated topics.. These endeavors should help us better comprehend why an issue continues to persist, and possibly shed light on some ways we can address its root causes directly. For if we don’t know what causes a problem, there’s no way to fix it.

Throughout numerous works depicting this phenomenon, including This is Water by David Foster Wallace, Pop Culture Freaks by Dustin Kiddand the following videos: The Scarecrow, Meet your Meat and Fed Up–we get a sense of how powerful companies use chicanery and false promises to get what they desire: money in their pockets at the expense of the American public.

Kidd lays out in Pop Culture Freaks the mechanisms that companies with disproportionately high amounts of power employ to satisfy their desires. One of these mechanisms lies in the concept of the “freak”: companies may sell us a “ticket to conformity”, but later “we never get into the prom” and “have to buy yet another ticket” (Kidd 2). This relates to Dylan Klebold’s awkwardness and his general inability to fit into society. This also illustrates how although we may find false hope in a temporary event such as the prom, this is soon dismantled by the constant need for more, and the never-ending trends which replace obsolete ones, similar to how Eric Harris’s taste for German punk rock–which some argue was a cause for the shooting–would soon be replaced by alternative rock in the early 2000s.

Similarly, in the video Meet Your Meat produced by PETA, gruesome footage is showcased of the absolutely inhumane conditions animals are put through on a day-to-day basis while waiting to be slaughtered. These images evict a pathos response from the audience, drawing them in to the main point of the video by inducing feelings of guilt from meat-eaters. It forces us to imagine ourselves in their situation, and places us in an ethical hard point as far as how much we want to sacrifice cheapness and efficiency for animal treatment. The main reason we are so convinced that eating meat is the way to go is because it surrounds us: numerous ads portray bikini models consuming juicy, fat-filled Carl’s Jr. burgers; every supermarket we enter has discounts on meat posted where one can easily see; and moreover, various government programs like the FDA and USDA recommend eating meat regularly to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Everywhere we look are reasons to eat meat; that’s why we need to surpass our environmental cues and learn to think for ourselves.

In the video This is Water, taken from a speech given by David Foster Wallace, the main argument is that sometimes we get so caught up in the monotonous activities that encompass life that we often forget to pause and analyze what could actually be happening outside of our subliminal consciousness. For instance, Wallace cites a prime example of this situation: waiting in a crowded line at the store after an exhausting day at work. Instead of cussing out the lady yelling into her phone in front of you or giving a dirty look to the lady checking out with ten coupons, he claims we should instead look at the bigger picture: maybe these people are in just as bad of a mental state as we are. Too often do we prioritize our own desires that we forget those of people around us, resorting to violence or distrust and forgetting the basis of human excellence: empathy. It is with this trait that we are able to comprehend problems of people unlike us in a peaceful manner, and additionally consult them with advice or wisdom.  Whenever we zone out from our environment, it becomes difficult to even fathom the circumstances causing our neighbor’s actions, and makes it easy to turn to violence as a simple, effective means of spreading one’s message.

Chipotle’s advertisement entitled The Scarecrow poses an argument which is laid out differently but maintains the same central argument: as a society we are frequently swayed by devious persuasion from powerful mass media which has only one motive: to generate profit. This motive is independent of and pays no attention to the suffering of humankind, and mostly results in detrimental circumstances.  Irony was present everywhere in the video, as in the name “scarecrow”, where in the beginning the crow scared the straw character to carry out unjust duties regarding meat processing, while at the end the scarecrow scared away the crow with his new, farm-grown store which was a popular craze. The crow symbolizes the unexpected forms in which mass media often appears, like how no one would ever believe a tiny bird could intimidate a massive straw creature to act upon the crow’s every will. Moreover, the scandalous acts of the media are hidden behind closes doors, as the scarecrow discovered in the video with “100% meat-ish” food products in a concealed factory. The video ends on a positive note though, which perhaps shines hope on the future of America.

With the excessive availability of meat at any market and it being solely advertised positively, Americans are pressured to be carnivores. Although you can usually find different food groups displayed next to meat, the variety of meats you will find in a given area usually outnumbers any other type of food you will encounter. Additionally, meat is distinguished from the rest of the food offered by advertising which makes it appear as if it is heavenly and flawless To give an example, in the lunch meat aisle in Safeway, envision at least three brands and two different cooking styles for every type of lunch meat; that’s the amount of product you are looking at. Companies use words such as “fresh food” or “quality meat” to evoke hunger and curiosity about where to purchase types of meat, hoping to induce salivation among the customers when viewing those advertisements.

One does not need to even travel far from Santa Clara University to discover the wide array of eateries whose most popular product involves meat. Simply look at Ike’s Sandwiches, Round Table Pizza, Subway, Wicked Chicken and Taco Bell, to name a few. All of these locations specialize in meat products, forcing the customers to look at many pictures of their menu, many of which include excesses of positive advertising. For Taco Bell, pictures don’t include grams of fat draining down the ground beef; instead, they include pictures of tacos assembled evenly and people enjoyably devouring their burritos. They also highlight sales and discounts that the store is offering at the current time. While these money ads don’t provoke hunger in the potential buyers, they do serve a valuable purpose: to convince shoppers that they can afford to buy the meat, and even encourage them to buy more than they would have originally. If customers think they can’t stand to pay a certain amount of money on meat, the stores sympathize with them and lower prices to fit their budget. This is tantamount to manipulation of the minds of shoppers into thinking that they can stretch their dollar more than it can be.

To further cite Safeway, there are many ways that advertising is utilized to showcase meat as the best thing to eat in any situation. One is how red meat, which has been proven to increase the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure, is always portrayed as a juicy, succulent steak which customers are all too familiar with. They use deceiving photos that don’t contain the large amounts of fat or unhealthy ingredients within and strictly appeal to the hunger and gluttony of Americans. These methods are elusive for while the quality of the food advertised may taste marginally better than non-meat products, simply stressing the positives and ignoring any potential health risks is bordering on false advertising. Unbeknownst to customers, they are cunningly led into a trap where the sight of these ads instantly grabs the attention of the reader and draws them in to make a purchase. This type of advertising works wonders in grocery stores, but in some ways is unethical toward shoppers who are just desperate for some quality meats.

It’s not just advertising which is the cause of prolonged carnivorousness. Another reason for this is the massive availability of meat at practically every street corner. For instance, just walking into Benson at SCU, one will first notice a huge area dedicated to Mexican cuisine (which specializes in meat products), then a semi-circular area with sandwich items (also containing over half a dozen meat options) and a huge side area for late night snacks and more unhealthy food (which is largely consistent of meat). For meat lovers, this sight is mouthwatering and beckons the student to figure out which meat-selling vendor to choose from. While not every item on the menus at these places includes meat, the vast majority do, with options such as the super burrito, roast beef sandwich and meat lover’s pizza. This summarizes the effects of positive advertising and meat’s availability to the common person and how these factors play a role in the prevalence of carnivorousness in America.

The next time you see a sign that reads “fresh meat, 100% tender beef, guaranteed,” think about what you’re looking at before you purchase it. Consider that it could be fully false and that there are other ingredients besides beef in it, or if you’re not willing to venture that far, at least ponder the possibility that the meat may have been sitting around for a couple days waiting to be bought. The aforementioned slogan implies two things: one, the buyer is guaranteed to be satisfied with the quality of their beef; and two, if by some odd chance they aren’t, they should be able to come back and request a full refund using the argument that the sign told them quality was assured. This sets the customer up with a foolproof, loophole-free plan to eating quality meat at a price that is assumed to be reasonable. This plan, while clever, is conniving and devilish of stores whose sole hope is to take advantage of clueless shoppers who are gullible enough to believe everything that is advertised to them. Thus, while meat will never fully go away, let’s work on actually telling people what’s really in their food.

In Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, CFEs, or common farming exemptions, allow industry farmers to create their own regulations which remain immune to food regulation agencies. One reason why it’s so difficult to find written documents of private interests at work in the meat industry is because the people who back industrial farming are so powerful that they prevent publication of anything that counters what they support. Some companies even go so far as threatening to withhold funding from universities if people speak out against these conglomerates. As shown in the documentary Food, Inc., huge interests like Monsanto threaten to persecute farmers who save genetically engineered seeds. In our own country we can see the horrors of mass media up close in personal, for in Colorado, you can go to prison for criticizing beef production or publishing a photo of an animal operation.

When looking at school shootings, specifically Columbine, we can see how the media can affect the way people look at things. For instance, many groups instantly jumped to the conclusion that Eric and Dylan’s despicable behavior stemmed from typical music of that day such as Marilyn Manson and KMFDM. Other claimed it was a result of the collusion among members of the Trenchcoat Mafia, or TCM. Even still, there were others who conspirated that the boys received help from other students on the inside or even from teachers. They were sure that Dylan and Eric were outcasts, potentially part of the gay community, whose target were the arrogant jocks who needed to be taught a lesson. These jocks “reported having seen the killers and friends “touching” in the hallways, groping each other or holding hands” (Cullen 155). They could’ve sworn that they boys were “part of a dark, underground national phenomenon known as the Gothic movement and that some of these Goths may have killed before” (Cullen 156). However, “Goths tended to be meek and pacifist; they had never been associated with violence, much less murder” (Cullen 156). To everyone’s surprise, none of the other assumptions was true either.

The story took only twenty-eight minutes to be aired on national television. News sources gathered that there were several shooters involved since many witnesses described Eric and Dylan with and without their trenchcoats. Reporters called students hiding in classrooms and asked them to update them on the situation. Most would argue that this type of contact is crossing the boundary and endangering not only the students trapped in a battle zone but potentially those on the other side of the phone. The media also claimed that 25 students were really killed, when it was actually almost half that. They also reported that the shooters were active during the whole ordeal when they had shot themselves not one hour after the first shot was fired.

That doesn’t even begin to cover the way the sheriff’s department handled the situation. They had come extremely close to entering Eric’s house by means of a search warrant, but for some reason never followed through with the process. They knew he was creating pipe bombs, and even found one in his front yard, which should’ve been more than suspicious enough to at least interrogate Eric. Nonetheless, Eric was ignored, and after the massacre on April 20, 1999, the Open Space Meeting was organized with representatives from the Jeffco Sheriff’s Department and FBI to discuss and potentially cover-up their failure to act the year prior. The very fact that this meeting occurred illustrates some form of dishonesty and lack of integrity on the part of the authorities involved in investigating this matter.

The media, specifically the Denver Post, was the first to claim that victims and their families were already healing two days after the massacre. They just wanted to get over the reporting frenzy and move on to the next hot story. However, even four years after the massacre, in the fall of 2000, many of those affected by the tragedy weren’t yet ready to heal. They formed a human shield to prevent the press from infiltrating this momentous moment for hundreds of students emotionally devastated by the travesty several months ago. They called the organization Take Back the School. “No doors or locks would keep out the media; they would be blocked by a human wall of shame” (Cullen 271).

Animal cruelty is happening now, and will continue to occur for many generations. So are school shootings, and perpetrators have no qualms about location of target or amount killed in the event. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean the rate at which animals or humans are brutally killed can’t be curbed or truthfully revealed to the public. This truth has been hidden by huge groups to support their campaign for revenue without regard to the well-being of those outside their organization. Other groups love to jump to conclusions, using Occam’s Razor to simplify situations which, when studied in depth, actually require much critical thinking. That’s what I take away from this year: although food and violence are not directly related, their implications and background must be thoroughly analyzed in order to fully understand the causes and effects of their existence. To start receiving valid, accurate information, we begin with the media.

Works Cited

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

Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown, 2009. 141. Print.

Food, Inc. Dir. Robert Kenner. Perf. Eric Schlosser. Magnolia Pictures, 2008. Film.

Kidd, Dylan. “Pop Culture Freaks: Identity, Mass Media, and Society.” (2004): Print.

“Meet Your Meat.” PETA Meet Your Meat Comments. PETA, n.d. Web. 08 June 2016.

“The Scarecrow.” The Scarecrow. Chipotle, Web. 08 June 2016.

This Is Water. Dir. David Foster Wallace. Web.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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