I recently mentioned Liam Neeson’s new movie, The Grey, in a previous blog post. Many animal rights activists, including me, find the film’s premise disturbing insofar as its portrayal of wolves is a complete reversal of reality: that wolves are the bloodthirsty killers attacking humans who are just fighting for survival.
Based on this and other roles played by Neeson, the internet has a new meme: Liam Neeson is Badass. Far be it for me to say he isn’t badass – I’m not the one filming movies in the freezing tundra. I want to curl up with a hot toddy just thinking about it. But he isn’t badass because he’s pretending to fight CG images and puppets of wolves. His character in the movie is badass in a fictitious scenario. This disconnect between actor and character/reality and fiction illustrates why these types of films are harmful. And the timing could not be worse.
Real wolves struggle to survive nearly everywhere they’re found. Less than 100 years ago, wolves were hunted to extinction in the US. They were re-introduced from Canada’s population in the 1980s, and protected by the Endangered Species Act. At least until this past year, when they were surreptitiously de-listed in a budget bill, just as they were beginning to flourish again. Such is the power of the ag lobby and a fear-driven public.
Wolves can now (or will soon be) hunted and killed in several states, including some parts of Utah, for no other reason than being wolves. As mentioned in my previous post, a lone wolf crossing from Oregon into Northern California has immediately elicited demands for his head on a platter. In Alaska they are shot from airplanes, often suffering a cruel and protracted death from their injuries. And who can forget Sarah Palin’s proposal of a bounty on their forelegs? It’s fair to say that a wolf just can’t get an even break.
Do we have good reason to fear the big, bad wolf? Let me connect some facts. Only two cases of wolves attacking and killing humans have been documented in North America. Furthermore, according to figures from the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) in 2005, domesticated dogs actually killed almost five times as many livestock animals as wolves did. Indeed, only .1% (yes that’s one-tenth of one percent) of cattle deaths in 2005 were caused by wolves. Meanwhile, humans kill and consume some fourteen billion animals every year, not including those who might kill and eat a few animals that we ourselves want to kill and eat. There is definitely a bloodthirsty species roaming the planet, but it takes a special kind of obtuse to say it’s wolves.
But let’s have another round of irony about The Grey. It has been reported that the film’s director had four wolves killed for the film. Two carcasses were supposedly for making props. While the film is fiction, these wolves died in earnest — and in the aftermath of the Vick dog-fighting bust, we should probably recognize the heinousness of killing an animal for the sake of entertaining a crowd.
The other two wolves were made into stew and fed to cast members, to get them in the mood for the wild. Neeson himself had seconds of the stew, according to one article. Hmmm. People killing and eating wolves… to make a film about… wolves killing and eating… people. Given the facts, let’s make that round of irony a double.
I really do understand that actors have to put themselves in a role. I don’t grudge them their craft. But I do question the idea that anyone needs to eat wolf carcass stew in order to get a feel for the wild. Most of us who saw Lord of the Rings bought into the existence of two hobbits eating elvish waybread — despite the fact that neither Sean Astin nor Elijah Wood had ever actually tasted the stuff. I also found the manufactured props of wargs, trolls, and giant spiders very believable, even though there weren’t any real ones around to kill and use as props.
And who wasn’t terrified of Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of Hannibal Lecter? One might even harbor slight doubt that he didn’t regularly eat human organs with fava beans and a nice Chianti. But I digress. *Shudder.*
Some have said that eating wolf stew itself is badass. Unless the wolf is still alive, poised to rip out the throat of the diner as it’s being eaten, I’m afraid there really isn’t much jeopardy involved there. Or as one friend quipped, “Don’t forget to eat the wolf’s heart so you get its courage.” If you want valor or gross-out factor, then according to many people I know, tofu stew is much more badass, apparently suitable only for immortals who derive their nutritional requirements from plants. I couldn’t make this up.
As for me, I’ll be joining WildEarth Guardians and others in boycotting The Grey, and invite you to do the same. To my omnivorous friends, please also consider boycotting beef, which is the driving force behind displacing and killing wolves.
Because in the end, standing up for wildlife against pop culture and irrational fear actually IS badass and brave — even if you’re not vegan, and have never made vegan stew out of real vegans.