Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Insights from the Movie 'Madagascar'

I recently watched the original Madagascar movie (2005) with my family. It was a cute animated film about a bunch of animals that escape from the New York City zoo, on a quest to return to the 'wild'.

One of the escaped animals is a lion named Alex. Alex has been pampered all his life, having been fed steak for every meal in the zoo. When back in the wild, he starts to feel a compulsion to hunt and eat other animals, including his friends, the zebra and giraffe. As you might imagine, this became a problem. Guess what the solution they came up with in the end, over which all the characters rejoiced - let Alex eat fish (sushi)!

What kind of "solution" is that!? It was as if fish didn't 'count' as creatures whose welfare was worth considering. It just goes to show that people (and anthropomophized animals!) place the welfare of fish far below other land-dwelling animals. Why is this? Perhaps because we view fish as foreign and lacking sentience, at least when compared with more familiar land-dwelling animals. Perhaps because we humans have such a long history of cooperative interaction with land creatures.

It reminds of this billboard and article I saw from PETA's Fish Empathy Project of a dog with a fish hook in his mouth with the tag line - "if you wouldn't do this to a dog, why do it to a fish?"

People wouldn't do it to their dog, but will continue to do it to fish until they internalize the notion that fish too are sentient, just like Rover.

Pointing to dry scientific evidence about fish intelligence/sentience isn't going to capture people's attention. The use of such evidence to motivate people to show fish more compassion will likely fall on deaf ears. What is needed is something to capture the imagination of the general public. We hope Fish School might do the trick by increasing the general public's perception of fish as sentient creatures, and therefore worthy of compassionate treatment.

--Dean

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