Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Video Kills the Animal Stars

In an odd decision, that clearly shows how strong the disconnect between human suffering and animal suffering is for many in the United States, the Supreme Court struck down a ban on dog fighting videos and other video depicting acts of animal cruelty. It's odd to me, partly because the acts themselves are illegal across the nation. You can't conduct dog fights, but you can sell and purchase videos of them. Somehow, the second degree of separation here allows people to be more at ease with the misery of the dogs involved. They aren't in the room; they're on a screen. It reminds me of comments Howard Zinn repeated made about dropping bombs in World War II. Being in a plane thousands of feet above the ground dehumanized the human victims, and rendered their suffering invisible. And thoughts about tortured animals, destroyed landscapes and ecosystems only came much later, after the damage was done.

I was surprised to read that the sole dissenter on this case was Justice Alito. He's almost always been in agreement with Chief Justice Roberts, to the point of being forgettable.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented, saying the majority’s analysis was built on “fanciful hypotheticals” and would serve to protect “depraved entertainment.” He said it was implausible to suggest that Congress meant to ban depictions of hunting or that the practice amounted to animal cruelty.

Bows to Justice Alito on this one.

I have to say I'm reluctant to limit freedom of speech, which these videos fall under. And I've often said that hate groups, for example, shouldn't be silenced, but held continually accountable for their speech and actions. But dog fighting videos, and others like them, serve no purpose other than as entertainment as far as I'm concerned. And if the Supreme Court doesn't want to restrict them, they should overturn the laws against dog fighting and animal cruelty as well. At least they'd have some consistency in their message.

On a related note, Richard from My Buddha is Pink made some interesting observations on yesterday's post about liberating fish from slaughter. Definitely worth checking out.


Adam said...

First, best title ever.

Second, after hearing about this, I have to wonder, is it okay to have and sell tapes of people being murdered or tortured? What about other felonies? This was a big "WTF" moment for me when I heard this. I really, really can't understand this.

Arun said...

SCOTUS’ decision is probably more in line with your views than you think. Chief Justice Roberts is primarily concerned that the law too broadly impinges on freedom of expression, concluding “[w]e therefore need not and do not decide whether a statute limited to crush videos or other depictions of extreme animal cruelty would be constitutional. We hold only that [the existing statute] is not so limited but is instead substantially overbroad, and therefore invalid under the First Amendment.” Given the precedents that the Chief Justice cites in his decision, it’s entirely plausible that Congress could go back and pass a more restricted (and constitutional) law against video that depicts animal cruelty.

Nathan said...

Hi Arun,

I'll have to read over Roberts' opinion a little closer. I didn't find the hunting video examples that have been brought up at all convincing, but maybe there's something in the fine print I'm missing.