Thursday, June 10, 2004

Sheep and trousers

People objecting to the hoax butchering of Shrek the sheep on Eating Media Lunch on the grounds that "it's animal cruelty"? Talk about not getting it!

EML's whole point was to draw attention to the dichotomy between our love of Shrek and our everyday slaughter of other members of his species. "Look! Cute fluffy animals, cute fluffy animals, cat getting stuck on a fan, cute fluffy animals, sheep being slaughtered. Lamb for dinner, anyone"?

On the one hand, saying that the sheep was the famous Shrek was an attempt to create empathy with a "trousers moment". For those who don't understand the reference, in his essay "Looking Back On The Spanish War", George Orwell describes not shooting at a man who was

half-dressed and was holding up his trousers with both hands as he ran. I refrained from shooting at him. ... I did not shoot partly because of that detail about the trousers. I had come here to shoot at 'Fascists'; but a man who is holding up his trousers isn't a 'Fascist', he is visibly a fellow-creature, similar to yourself, and you don't feel like shooting at him.

The media circus surrounding Shrek has caused many people to think of him as "a fellow creature". The thought of him being slaughtered and eaten upsets us (and not just on economic grounds). But if Shrek, why not other sheep?

And on the other hand, it was also saying "it's just a sheep, goddamit!" Shrek is ultimately "just a sheep", and that is what happens to sheep. So why all the fuss about him?

Either way, it was an artful skewering of common assumption, and a great example of why I like EML.