Friday, December 10, 2010

I was rooting for the caribou

The TLC series Sarah Palin's Alaska features footage of Palin killing a caribou, with the help of her father and a family friend.

Palin is no sharpshooter. She fires almost half a dozen times before she finally hits the thing. She actually appears far less skilled in the nasty business of killing than I had imagined her to be. As the Gaurdian's Craig Dougherty points out, "She repeatedly missed a standing caribou; her father had to work her gun's action; and she acted like she was along for the ride." (Her incompetence may be manufactured, of course: her handlers would like to market her as an outdoorsman, but they also don't want her to seem threatening to male voters.) After every round is fired, the caribou stands motionless, trying to figure out what is happening, I suppose. As I watched this, I began to feel sorry for it. And that made me dislike Palin even more. Not that Palin cares, of course: everything she does seems to be calculated to polarize, to appeal to her base and infuriate her political opposition. She is a graduate of the Karl Rove School of Ultra-Partisan Politics.

I am not a hunter, and I never have been. I don't understand the appeal of the sport at all. And when I say that I feel something like affection for the beautiful creature felled by Palin's rifle, hunters might not understand me, either. If I saw a caribou, the last thing I would want to do is kill it. (Perhaps that makes me sound like a pansy to you, dear reader. So be it.) I have heard at least one hunter claim that hunting only increases his appreciation of his targets, but that just doesn't compute with me. One need not kill an animal to study its behavior and appreciate it.

In her own defense, Palin reminded those of us who might be disturbed by the footage that we really don't want to be hypocrites:
Tonight's hunting episode of Sarah Palin's Alaska "controversial"?
Really? Unless you've never worn leather shoes, sat upon a leather couch
eaten a piece of meat, save your condemnation of tonight's episode. I
remain proudly intolerant of anti-hunting hypocrisy. :)
(This is just another example of the magic of Sarah Palin, i.e., her refinement of pure snottiness into an art form, her uncanny ability to piss off those who don't see things exactly as she does.) Aaron Sorkin, of all people, recently ripped Palin for the segment anyway. In response to the aforementioned Facebook status update, Sorkin writes:
You're right, Sarah, we'll all just go fuck ourselves now.

The snotty quote was posted by Sarah Palin on (like all the great frontier women who've come before her) her Facebook page to respond to the criticism she knew and hoped would be coming after she hunted, killed and carved up a Caribou during a segment of her truly awful reality show. . . .

I eat meat, chicken and fish, have shoes and furniture made of leather, and PETA is not ever going to put me on the cover of their brochure and for these reasons Palin thinks it's hypocritical of me to find what she did heart-stoppingly disgusting. I don't think it is, and here's why.

Like 95% of the people I know, I don't have a visceral (look it up) problem eating meat or wearing a belt. But like absolutely everybody I know, I don't relish the idea of torturing animals. I don't enjoy the fact that they're dead and I certainly don't want to volunteer to be the one to kill them and if I were picked to be the one to kill them in some kind of Lottery-from-Hell, I wouldn't do a little dance of joy while I was slicing the animal apart.

I'm able to make a distinction between you and me without feeling the least bit hypocritical. I don't watch snuff films and you make them. You weren't killing that animal for food or shelter or even fashion, you were killing it for fun. You enjoy killing animals. I can make the distinction between the two of us but I've tried and tried and for the life of me, I can't make a distinction between what you get paid to do and what Michael Vick went to prison for doing. I'm able to make the distinction with no pangs of hypocrisy even though I get happy every time one of you faux-macho shitheads accidentally shoots another one of you in the face. . . .

And you didn't just do it for fun and you didn't just do it for money. That was the first moose ever murdered for political gain. You knew there'd be a protest from PETA and you knew that would be an opportunity to hate on some people, you witless bully.
I agree with Sorkin that Palin had ulterior, political motives for inserting this segment into the series. And if you still have the ability to doubt that everything Palin does is calculated to enhance her public image, consider what her father said about his daughter in the same episode: "She carries her own weight, whether it's hunting or fishing or politics. Anything Sarah Palin does, she does with all four feet, let me tell you that." (With the possible exception of working the action on her own rifle, of course: we can't expect a "feminist" to be burdened with such manly trifles.)

I doubt that someone of Palin's stature literally needs to hunt caribou to survive. Some Alaskans may, but that doesn't justify Palin's actions. But I take her at her word that they will make use of the animal, and that blunts the force of Sorkin's complaint. Another of Sorkin's objections succeeds, however. Palin sets up a false dichotomy: either you endorse the manner in which she killed and cleaned the caribou, or you are a hypocrite. Sorkin points out that there is a third possibility: recognize that we may at times be justified in killing and making use of another animal, but not take joy in the actual killing and cleaning of that animal. Palin takes too much joy in the slaughter of other sentient beings, and that is a serious character flaw.

There is, of course, another possible response. For some years, I was a vegetarian. I did, however, eat fish and animal products, such as eggs and cheese. And I was a vegetarian for moral reasons: I was unwilling to make the effort to determine whether any meat I might consume was factory-farmed, so I simply didn't eat any at all. I am no longer a vegetarian. I do buy beef sometimes from an individual I know who raises his own cattle for slaughter, so I know that his animals are treated humanely while they are alive. It's difficult to see anything morally wrong with this. And I do try to minimize the amount of meat I consume. But I cannot say for sure that I do not eat factory-farmed meat, so I recognize and admit that I am doing something morally wrong. This is how I avoid the charge of hypocrisy: if you simply acknowledge your own lack of sainthood on this matter, people like Palin cannot manipulate you with the threat of being charged with hypocrisy.

You can, of course, deprive someone like Palin of the ability to manipulate you by refusing to use or consume animal products. I have a friend who avoids consuming and using any animal products whatsoever. It can be done, and it is done, by countless people every single day.

But the most important point is this: if there really is something wrong with hunting, or Palin's attitude toward it, my being a hypocrite would not change that fact in the slightest.

At the end of the video, Palin has what will seem to many to be her Shazzang moment. (How's that for a semi-obscure pop culture reference? If I could find the video to embed in this post, I would, believe me.) Palin says, "Well, I'm always really happy when I do get an animal, because usually my Dad is by my side when I'm hunting, and it's like, see, Dad? I did it! I listened to what you said, and I learned something, and we accomplished it together."

This was surely calculated to appeal to her base, but it leaves me cold, as does virtually everything Palin does. I don't worry that the chief executive may not be interested in hunting and killing animals, and Palin's gleeful readiness to do so doesn't qualify her for the job.

Update. One of Andrew Sullivan's readers explains how Palin's appeal to those of us living in America's heartland might actually backfire, at least among hunters.

1 comment:

  1. Tonight's hunting episode of Sarah Palin's Alaska "controversial"?

    No. Unless you consider overt attempts to be controversial controversial.

    Really? Unless you've never worn leather shoes, sat upon a leather couch or
    eaten a piece of meat, save your condemnation of tonight's episode.

    You've covered this one, but there is (also) a meaningful difference between killing an animal that would not be alive if it were not for generations of domestication, and killing a wild animal. If they were not raised for food literally billions of pigs and cows would never have lived. That caribou, however, is serving a different purpose on the planet. She's taking the food out of the mouths of wolves (he said snarkingly).

    remain proudly intolerant of anti-hunting hypocrisy. :)

    And I remain proudly intolerant of the hypocrisy of members of the mainstream media who claim the mainstream media is treating them unfairly. People's reactions to Sarah Palin are as informed and considered as their reactions to any other media/pop culture figure.


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