Marius the giraffe and the morality of a nation: “Well, there was no need for that”
When I found myself reading at 2:30am about a fourteen year old girl who was gang-raped on the 10th of February, the day of this post, I felt sad and sorry for her but not sad and sorry enough. So, I said to myself “No, Alainah, think about it". Thirty seconds later when I had fully begun to contemplate what this meant for the girl, I was no longer sad but horrified. It’s easy to be. Isn’t it? After reflecting on this strange gap between a lack of emotional response, recognising I should of had one and then having one, my first thought was “Well, I do this all day”. I read news articles online and through my phone app’s quite literally whenever I can. When I am ill, which is quite often, I can be in front of the news for a week. It was very early in the morning, I was browsing through my news apps in the same manner I had done thirty times that day and maybe I was just tired and morally ‘foggy’ through desensitisation? Perhaps. But, if Michael Jackson’s death or the death of Marius the giraffe in Copenhagen’s zoo had just been announced I probably would have felt the opposite of tired or morally disengaged. Most likely, I would have sat up in bed and starred into my screen trying to pull the words into my brain as quickly and sharply as I could. But, this is not what happened in the case of the young girl. Which, quite honestly, now that I type this formally, is incredibly sad.
So, not tired or foggy, really, but perhaps desensitized? But why would I be desensitized to something as horrific as gang rape but not the death of an animal in a zoo which, quite frankly, is shocking in its own way, but isn't in the grand scheme of animal captivity nor the circle of life? My mother’s horse was cut into meat for the local zoo when he died, so I’ve heard of it before and the inbred giraffe may have suffered a similar fate in the wild, again, all of which I’ve heard before. Please note, I am in no way condoning the behaviour of Copenhagen Zoo, at all, but I want to ask why to most of us – including myself - felt that what happened to Marius was so abhorrent? The story is currently trending on Twitter (3pm GMT) with petitions flying and objections being screamed IN CAPITALS from one pole of Twitter and Facebook to another. Many of my friends who are not politically active or avid newsreaders were equally dismayed and began sharing the story through Facebook condemning the poor giraffe’s death almost as soon as it happened. There must be something ‘special’ about this piece of news to capture the imagination of a majority of the general public who have begun online petitions and continue to fuel social-media uproar.
So, what's made Marius special?
In fact, what makes him more important than the young girl who was gang-raped? A news article which is neither trending on Twitter or Facebook (3pm GMT) nor have I seen the news article re-tweeted, quoted or spoke of on my Twitter timeline once today. Perhaps the world is outraged and I am yet to see it. Perhaps it is not. I am not arguing which is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, but I am trying to understand why Marius has taken precedent over not just the young girl but atrocities in Syria, the bloody revolt in the Ukraine and Bosnia who has just begun following suit, to name but a few important news stories. And this is it:
Firstly, perhaps it was that Marius’ death was a low number. He was just a single, happy, healthy, innocent giraffe who did not deserve to die and it is easier to identify with the death of one than, say, the plight of 160,000 people in a Syrian refugee camp. Perhaps when numbers grow larger we feel more disconnected from the plight of the individual, like ourselves, and therefore feel disempowered. Because, really, how could I make any difference to a war-torn country? However, this argument seems is troublesome because when it came to 9/11 in New York, the 7/7 bombings in London or the Holocaust we have found it incredibly easy to identify with the death of hundreds, thousands and millions. If it is not a matter of scale then conceivably it is something else.
Perhaps it was because Marius’ death was in front of children, the emblem of innocence. The giraffe too was innocent. It is an innocent animal that, actually, to most people is quite a joyful, funny looking thing that you cannot imagine being associated with death and the severing of limbs in front of an audience. These two ideas are not easily associated and therefore shocking. But, I would also argue that the only difference between a giraffe being stunned and then hacked for meat and the same happening to a cow is that I want to eat the latter. Although, of course, I wouldn’t wish this to be done in front of children. But, mainly the arguments I have seen have been for the giraffe itself and then there has been ‘extra’ outrage when people discover it was performed in front of children. Therefore, it must be something about the animal itself and if we go back to the argument of the cow, I am sure the lion wants to eat the giraffe. It is not a regular occurrence in the wild maybe, but a lion is a lion and I am pretty sure this is the equivalent, to the lion, of Tesco putting horsemeat into our microwaveable lasagna. A bit different to what we’re used to, but ultimately we’d probably eat it. So, what makes a giraffe anymore innocent than a cow or a lamb so much so that its death becomes both unnecessary and outrageous? Is the giraffe more innocent because I do not wish to eat it? Why does my choice of meat dictate the sanctity of an animal? When I hear people coming from back from America or Australia they’re always delighted to tell me they’ve tried buffalo, kangaroo or crocodile. So, maybe it wasn’t that someone was going to eat Marius at the end of his ordeal, or primarily that it was done in front of children and therefore it was something else.
Maybe it was just that Marius was innocent. However, again, I do not see how he was anymore innocent than the thousands of animals killed for us to eat, the young girl who was gang raped, the people of Syria or anyone else who has fallen victim to serious and violent crime. And although in the case of Syria, say, there has been a huge amount of debate and outrage at the situation I have not seen the same response as with Marius the giraffe. Again, what is so different about Marius? Feasibly it could be that the death of Marius was shocking because I for one have never heard of a giraffe being killed in a zoo before. In more ways than one the entire story was ‘fresh’. There was nothing boring or mundane about it, as news goes. But, does that mean if zoos begin massacring giraffes in the hundreds suddenly Marius becomes less important? I’m not sure he does. If we hear of giraffes being slaughtered on a regular basis do we stop caring about the life of Marius so much? I’m not sure we should. But, perhaps that’s exactly what happens when we hear of the same news story over and over again. I fear that this is the explanation for why I sat looking at my phone at 2:30am this morning and had to remind myself, in my sleepy haze, that the words ‘gang-rape’ and ‘fourteen year old girl’ are triggers for moral outrage too. Maybe, ‘160,000 refugees’ should make my blood boil. Perhaps such things should be trending on Twitter all day every day until we’re satisfied the situation has been resolved in a way that is both appropriate and acceptable to us, as will most likely occur in the case of Marius in some form.
Upon writing this post my father came home and we spoke about the case of Marius. He said he had been listening to the Jeremy Vine show on BBC Radio 2 where they were also discussing the death of the giraffe. He recalled the director of the zoo being involved in the discussion and had commented that basically, what's the problem? Zoos use an animal’s meat to feed other animals and that’s life. Others phoned in to say it was socially unacceptable and that all Marius’ death indicates is that we too often ‘play God’ and do not care about anything anymore. A journalist based in Denmark also remarked that in the twenty odd years he had been writing articles that none had taken off in the way that Marius’ had.
If the viewers are right and we don’t care about anything anymore, then the consequences are three fold. 1) Either we have a beautiful sense of irony given the death of a giraffe has shifted our focus away from the death of thousands in Syria (for example, again) where the internet has not exploded in any such fashion 2) It contradictory to say so because the plight of this animal is the admission of a public who cares. 3) Marius is the beginning of a change in the social moral tide. We shall see. Maybe it's just because we just think, "Oh, come on. There was no need for that!” But I'm not sure there's need for any of the atrocities that occur around the world. So, again, I ask with the upmost compassion, what is so special about Marius?
Another blog post on Marius and the research this giraffe will contribute to.
A friend has also recommended this video - Adam Curtis' 'Oh Dearism' (below)
Curtis has also recently published an article in the New Statesman entitled "We don't read newspapers because journalism is so boring" - http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2014/02/adam-curtis-interview