13/04/2011

Pop Portrayal of Vegetarians


"TURNIP PIE AND PEANUTS - THAT'S THE SORT OF FILTH I EAT!
ANY SORT OF RUBBISH THAT'S WHOLESOME AND DISCREET!
WHY DON'T I ADMIT THAT MY HYPOCRISY'S COMPLETE?
IF I SHOULD LIVE TO BE A CENTENARIAN -
BECOME OUR MOST ADORED HUMANITARIAN -
I'LL NEVER MAKE A DECENT VEGETARIAN
!"
- Dr Doolittle (1967)


Oh, you're into that no-meat diet stuff? Which flavour are you:
spiteful,
weak,
voguish,
sentimental
or neurotic?

Vegetarians get slandered all over the place in pop culture. Even now, I'm struggling to list many positive portrayals. The battle happens over and over, and vegetarians invariably lose. The holy grail of the matter would be the philosophical vegan who doesn't even like animals (rare in life, but unimaginable in fiction). When visible at all, vegetarians are 2D stereotypes, The Vegetarian Character and little else. Let's hunt:
  • Mystic: Wacky cultural moralism. e.g. him out of K-Pax, Spock, loads of Hollywood Hindus.

  • Hippy: As goofy, sentimental, contemptible. e.g. Phoebe from Friends, Shaggy from Scooby-Doo.

  • Hipster: As smug, shallow, au courant. (This feeds through to the larger image of cheap rebellion.) e.g.

  • Wienie: As feminine and/or picky behaviour. HG Well's Eloi; Gregg Edelman in Green Card.

Unstereotypical examples:
  • Since 2000, Superman.

  • Amoral: Renton from Trainspotting just can't digest meat properly, and doesn't give a fuck about sentience.

  • As much as I'm surprised to say it, Legally Blonde is good, albeit trading animal-rights stereotypes for an extra ladle of gender ones. For political strength see also Joan Allen in The Contender.

  • The Lisas in Six Feet Under and The Simpsons are ok, though still heavy on the larfs: "Good news, everyone! You don't have to eat meat! I've got enough gazpacho for everyone!".

  • Michel Faber's not vegetarian, but (so?) has written one of few persuasive novels with it as a main theme. Safran Foer in Everything Is Illuminated. Joelle from Infinite Jest, too.

  • Scott Pilgrim could have been a subversion of the "weak" stereotype in the form of evil super-vegan Todd, but ends up showing him as an idiot poser.

  • You can always rely on Alan Moore to be thoughtful: Ozymandias is an Olympean-Hyperborean ethical villain.

  • Count motherfucking Duckula.

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This is just the distortion in the fictional envelope, of course: the News does a much bigger and more impressive job. Why is this wrong?

1) Deception by inaccuracy. By misrepresenting what vegism is actually like, it marginalizes loads of people (about 8% of Brits, 3% of Americans).

2) Deception by omission. Keeps the veil over omnivorous readers about the rational aspects and the challenge to speciesism.

3) Reproduction from deception. Worst, it obscures our violence to nonhumans, violence which couldn't continue without constant omissions like this. (I softly imagine.)


2 comments:

  1. Bruce, Anchor and Chum - the vegetarian sharks from Finding Nemo.

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  2. Hey thanks for the comment! Obviously I was not being as original as I thought :P.

    I had no idea that figures for veggies in the UK could be as high as 8%! That's awesome if it's true!

    Count Duckula... too brilliant for words :D

    ReplyDelete