Friday, November 23, 2007

Ingrid Newkirk & Other Wright-Thinking People On Behalf Of Turkeys

By no small coincidence, I suppose, HBO's documentary "I Am An Animal: The Story Of Ingrid Newkirk And PETA" premiered Monday evening--just a few nights before Thanksgiving.

The film seeks to provide a profile of Ingrid Newkirk and the organization she co-founded some 27 years ago, People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), showing her at her very spartan apartment and at work at the PETA offices as well as at the helm of PETA campaigns and investigations--including an undercover investigation of ConAgra turkey processing plant.

We see that this investigation is initially botched in the hands of too-green PETA operative before he's replaced by a grizzled vet who emerges with video footage of horrifying abuses of the turkeys in that plant. I'd like to think at least a small percentage of viewers opted to skip the turkey at this year's Thanksgiving meal.

Before moving on to a couple of other quick turkey/Thanksgiving-related observations, I like to note, for what little it's worth, that the documentary was not without its virtues, but presented a one-dimensional if not downright inaccurate portrait of Ingrid Newkirk. Do I agree with everything she says, or has done?

Certainly not. My theory (and an underlying premise of "Talking Animals") is that everyone--both inside and outside the animal welfare world--has their own philosophical threshold of ideas, arguments and tactics they deem appropriate for the cause they're seeking to serve. For me, for example, the PETA campaign comparing pigs and chickens squished together in a factory farming setting with Jews in the Holocaust--well, do I need to go on? Yet, even now, the film makes clear, Newkirk thinks that was a good campaign, and stands by it.

But I also think she's done enormous good for all sorts of animals for the better part of three decades. And I was surprised by the Ingrid Newkirk that was rendered in "I Am An Animal": Profoundly sad, disconnected, unpleasant, almost lifeless.

She might well be those things at times, but the Ingrid Newkirk I've seen in countless interviews and other settings--and I interviewed her myself on "Talking Animals" three years ago--and she more commonly comes across as a bright, peppy, witty, spirited, engaging figure. I didn't see that Ingrid in this documentary, which isn't to suggest the film was without merit. There just seemed to be curious choices made in the editing bay, and maybe elsewhere, along the way.

On a somewhat related note, Don Wright--The Palm Beach Post's phenomenal, Pulitzer-winning editorial cartoonist--offered the day before Thanksgiving a wordless but typically powerful cartoon: in a field there's a big human hunter carrying a gun, with a thought bubble above his ahead with the image of a turkey in a roasting pan; on the other side of a large tree, we see a turkey with a thought bubble above his ahead--with the image of the hunter in a roasting pan.

I'm with the turkey.

But for years now, I've sided with the turkey--and once again, yesterday, I had a fantastic turkey-free Thanksgiving meal. With any luck--whether or not they saw "I Am An Animal"--more folk did the same yesterday. And even more might consider that sort of Thanksgiving meal next year.

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